An Exegetical Commentary - Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah

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Preface to Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah

The books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah are often neglected by pastor and people alike, to the loss of all concerned. These prophets were not only astute observers of their time and authors of literary distinction, they were also spiritually sensitive men who held a high concern for God’s person and reputation. Their pronouncements on the greed, materialism, and spiritual and moral decay that beset seventh-century-B.C. Judahite society are no less valid in today’s world. Careful consideration of these books will, therefore, pay rich spiritual dividends to their readers.

My hope is that those who interact with this commentary will come to love these prophets as I have. In carrying out the aims of the series I have attempted to follow faithfully the WEC format. My translations are intended to be neither strictly literal nor highly literate. Rather, my goal is to give a faithful translation of the MT that reflects the conclusions given in the exegetical discussions. Particularly important or disputed areas are marked by an asterisk and referred to in the Additional Notes by the symbol †.

Preceding each translation I have provided an opening overview of the section under consideration. Consequently the reader becomes aware at the beginning of the discussion of where he is in the book’s flow of thought and of what might lie ahead. The Exegesis and Ex-position section is devoted to the larger issues controlling the interpretation of the passage. It is my conviction that the chair of proper exegesis rests upon the four evenly balanced legs of grammatical precision, historical accuracy, literary conventions, and proper theological conclusions. Therefore, matters relative to all four areas will be found, though in varying degrees, throughout the exegetical discussions. In utilizing these exegetical tools, however, my aim has been always to avoid technical jargon so that the comments will be useful to all of God’s people. At times, matters brought up in this section will receive fuller attention in the Additional Notes. Such items are marked by an asterisk and indicated in the Additional Notes by italics.

The Additional Notes section is reserved for matters of concern to scholarly precision. While they often contain information useful in understanding or amplifying the conclusions reached in the Exegesis and Exposition, they at times contain details not mentioned previously. Although original text citations are not generally transliterated here, as in the Exegesis and Exposition, they are usually translated so that the material under consideration will be understandable to all readers. Likewise, comments and citations in extrabiblical foreign languages are customarily translated or summarized for the benefit of all.

My special thanks go to Ronald Youngblood for his many helpful suggestions and to my dear wife, Ann, who painstakingly (and painfully) prepared this commentary from my handwritten draft. Only my students and secretary can begin to appreciate the herculean nature of that task! My fondest hope is that the result of our labors has been the production of a commentary that is readable and helpful and not given to a display of erudition. Remembering Hitzig’s observation that we accomplish nothing in our own strength (Mit unserer macht is nichts getan), to the extent that this has been achieved the final credit belongs to Him who is the source of all true wisdom. Above all, may this book be honoring to Him “who loved [us] and gave himself for [us]” (Gal. 2:20, NIV).


The following abbreviations have been adopted for this commentary in addition to or in modification of those found in the Journal of Biblical Literature:


C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentaries on the Old Testament


The Dead Sea Scrolls


The Expositor’s Bible Commentary


Grace Theological Journal


The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (1939 edition)


L. Koehler und W. Baumgartner, Hebräisches und Aramäisches Lexikon zum Alten Testament (3d edition)


New King James Version


The Peshitta


Loren R. Fisher, ed., Ras Shamra Parallels, Analecta Orientalia 49, 3 vols. (Roma: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1981)


Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament


Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary


The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible


General Works

Baker, David W. Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. TOTC. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988.

Bewer, Julius A. The Literature of the Old Testament. 3d ed. New York: Columbia U., 1962.

Bullock, C. Hassell. An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books. Chicago: Moody, 1986.

Chisholm, Robert B., Jr. Interpreting the Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989.

Contenau, Georges. Everyday Life in Babylon and Assyria. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1966.

Craigie, Peter C. Twelve Prophets. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985.

Delaporte, L. Mesopotamia. Translated by V. Gordon Childe. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1970.

Driver, S. R. An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament. Rev. ed. New York: Scribner’s, 1950.

Eissfeldt, Otto. The Old Testament: An Introduction. Translated by P. R. Ackroyd. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.

Feinberg, C. L. The Minor Prophets. Chicago: Moody, 1976.

Freeman, Hobart E. An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets. Chicago: Moody, 1971.

_____. Nahum Zephaniah Habakkuk. Everyman’s Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1973.

Hailey, Homer. A Commentary on the Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972.

Harrison, R. K. Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971.

Hummel, Horace D. The Word Becoming Flesh. St. Louis: Concordia, 1979.

Jastrow, Morris, Jr. Hebrew and Babylonian Traditions. New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1914.

Keil, C. F. The Twelve Minor Prophets. COT. 2 vols. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954.

Laetsch, Theo. The Minor Prophets. St. Louis: Concordia, 1956.

Larue, Gerald A. Babylon and the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969.

Layard, Austen H. Nineveh and Its Remains. 2 vols. New York: Putnam, 1849.

Lehman, Chester K. Biblical Theology: Old Testament. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald, 1971.

Lehrman, S. M. The Twelve Prophets. Soncino Books of the Bible. 12th ed. Edited by A. Cohen. New York: Soncino, 1985.

Luckenbill, Daniel David. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia. 2 vols. Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1926-27.

Olmstead, A. T. History of Assyria. Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1951.

Parrot, André Babylon and the Old Testament. New York: Philosophical Library, 1958.

_____. Nineveh and the Old Testament. New York: Philosophical Library, 1955.

Pritchard, James B., ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts. 3d ed. Princeton: Princeton U., 1969.

Pusey, E. B. The Minor Prophets. 2 vols. Grand Rapids, Baker, 1953.

Rice, T. T. The Scythians. London: Thames and Hudson, 1957.

Robertson, O. Palmer. The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1990.

Robinson, T. H. Prophecy and the Prophets. 2d ed. London: Duckworth, 1953.

Saggs, H. W. F. Assyriology and the Study of the Old Testament. Cardiff: U. of Wales, 1969.

_____. Everyday Life in Babylonia and Assyria. New York: G. P. Putnam’s, 1965.

_____. The Greatness That Was Babylon. New York: Hawthorn, 1962.

_____. The Might That Was Assyria. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984.

Schoville, Keith N. Biblical Archaeology in Focus. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978.

Smith, George Adam. The Book of the Twelve Prophets. Rev. ed. 2 vols. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1929.

Smith, Ralph L. Micah-Malachi. WBC. Waco: Word, 1984.

Vermes, G. The Dead Sea Scrolls in English. Baltimore: Penguin, 1962.

von Rad, Gerhard. Old Testament Theology. 2 vols. New York: Harper, 1965.

von Orelli, C. The Twelve Minor Prophets. Translated by J. S. Banks. Reprint. Minneapolis: Klock and Klock, 1977.

Wiseman, D. J. Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings. London: British Museum, 1956.

_____, ed. Peoples of Old Testament Times. Oxford: Clarendon, 1973.


Commentaries and special studies

Armerding, Carl. E. “Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk.” In EBC, vol. 7. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985.

Cathcart, Kevin J. Nahum in the Light of Northwest Semitic. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1973.

Haldar, Alfred. Studies in the Book of Nahum. Uppsala: Lundequistska Bokhandeln, 1947.

Kohlenberger, John R. III. Jonah and Nahum. Everyman’s Bible Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1984.

Maier, Walter A. The Book of Nahum. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959.

Schulz, Hermann. Das Buch Nahum. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1973.

Smith, John M. P. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Zephaniah and Nahum. ICC. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911.


Allis, O. T. “Nahum, Nineveh, Elkosh.” EvQ 27 (1955): 67-70.

Becking, Bob. “Is het boek Nahum een literaire eenherd.” NedTTs 32 (1978): 107-24.

Cathcart, Kevin J. “More Philological Studies in Nahum.” JNSL 7 (1979): 1-12.

_____. “Treaty Curses and the Book of Nahum.” CBQ 35 (1973): 179-87.

Christensen, D. L. “The Acrostic of Nahum Reconsidered.” ZAW 87 (1975): 17-30.

_____. “The Acrostic of Nahum Once Again.” ZAW 99 (1987): 409-15.

_____. “The Book of Nahum: The Question of Authorship within the Canonical Process.” JETS 31 (1988): 51-58.

Delcor, Matthias. “Allusions a la deese Istar, Nahum 2:8” Bib 58 (1977): 73-83.

Florit, Josep Ribera i. “La versión aramaica del profeta Nahum.” Anuario 6 (1980): 291-322.

Levenson, J. D. “Textual and Semantic Notes on Nahum 1:7-8.” VT 25 (1975): 792-95.

Patterson, Richard D., and Michael E. Travers. “Literary Analysis and the Unity of Nahum.” GTJ 9 (1988): 45-58.

_____. “Nahum: Poet Laureate of the Minor Prophets.” JETS 33 (1990): 437-44.

Renaud, Bernard. “La composition du livre de Nahum.” ZAW 99 (1987): 198-219.

Rowley, H. H. “Nahum and the Teacher of Righteousness.” JBL 75 (1956): 188-93.

Saggs, H. W. F. “Nahum and the Fall of Nineveh.” JTS 20 (1969): 220-25.

Tsumura, David T. “Janus Parallelism in Nah 1:8” JBL 102 (1983): 109-11.

Weiss, R. “A Comparison Between the Masoretic and the Qumran Texts of Nahum III, 1-11.” RQ 4 (1963-64): 433-39.

Woude, A. S. van der. “The Book of Nahum: A Letter Written in Exile.” OTS 20 (1977): 108-26.

Yoder, P. B. “A-B Pairs and Composition in Hebrew Poetry.” VT 21 (1971): 470-89.


Commentaries and special studies

Armerding, Carl E. “Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk.” In EBC, vol. 7. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985.

Brownlee, W. H. The Text of Habakkuk in the Ancient Commentary from Qumran. JBL Monograph XI. Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1959.

_____. The Midrash Pesher of Habakkuk. Missoula, Mont.: Scholars, 1979.

Hiebert, Theodore. God of My Victory. Harvard Semitic Monographs 38. Atlanta: Scholars, 1986.

Humbert, P. Problèmes du livre d’Habacuc. Neuchatel: Secretariat de L’Universite, 1944.

Ward, W. Hayes. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk. ICC. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911.


Ahuviah, A. “‘Why Do You Countenance Treachery?’ A Study in the Oracle Which Habakkuk the Prophet Saw (1:1-2:4).” Beth Mikra 31 (1985/86): 320-27.

Albright, W. F. “The Psalm of Habakkuk.” In Studies in Old Testament Prophecy Dedicated to T. H. Robinson, edited by H. H. Rowley, pp. 1-18. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1950.

Cassuto, U. “Chapter III of Habakkuk and the Ras Shamra Texts.” In Biblical and Oriental Studies, translated by Israel Abrahams, vol. 2, pp. 3-15. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975.

Cathcart, Kevin J. “Legal Terminology in Habakkuk 2:1-4.” Proceedings of the Irish Biblical Association 10 (1986): 103-10.

_____. “A New Proposal for Hab 1,17.” Bib 65 (1984): 575-76.

Dahood, Mitchell. “Two Yiphil Causatives in Habakkuk 3:13a.” Or 48 (1979): 258-59.

Day, John. “New Light on the Mythological Background of Allusion to Resheph in Habakkuk iii 5.” VT 29 (1979): 353-55.

Eaton, J. H. “The Origin and Meaning of Habakkuk 3.” ZAW 76 (1964): 144-71.

Emerton, J. A. “The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5.” JTS 28 (1977): 2-17.

Gowan, D. E. “Habakkuk and Wisdom.” Perspective 9 (1968): 157-66.

Gunneweg, A. H. J. “Habakuk und das Problem des leidenen s£dyq.” ZAW 98 (1986): 400-15.

Harris, J. G. “The Laments of Habakkuk’s Prophecy.” EvQ 45 (1973): 21-29.

Janzen, J. Gerald. “Habakkuk 2:2-4 in the Light of Recent Philological Advances.” HTR 73 (1980): 53-78.

Johnson, Marshall D. “The Paralysis of Torah in Habakkuk 14.” VT 35 (1985): 257-66.

Koch, Dietrich-Alex. “Der Text von Hab 2 4b in der Septuaginta und im Neuen Testament.” ZNW 76 (1985): 68-85.

Longman, Tremper III. “The Divine Warrior: The New Testament Use of an Old Testament Motif.” WTJ 44 (1982): 290-307.

Margulis, Baruch. “The Psalm of Habakkuk: A Reconstruction and Interpretation.” ZAW 82 (1970): 409-39.

Otto, E. “Die Stellung der Wehe-Worte in der Verkundigüng des Propheten Habakuk.” ZAW 89 (1977): 73-106.

Patterson, Richard D. “The Psalm of Habakkuk.” GTJ 8 (1987): 163-94.

Peckham, Brian. “The Vision of Habakkuk.” CBQ 48 (1986): 617-36.

Prinsloo, W. S. “Die boodskap van die boek Habakuk.” Nederduits Gereformeerde Teologiese Tydskrif 20 (1979): 146-51.

Rast, Walter E. “Justification by Faith.” Cur TM 10 (1983): 169-75.

Scott, James M. “A New Approach to Habakkuk ii 4-5a.” VT 35 (1985): 330-40.

van der Wal, A. J. O. “Lo„á Na„mu„t in Habakkuk I 12: A Suggestion.” VT 38 (1988): 480-82.

Verhoef, P. A. “Habakkuk.” In ZPEB, edited by Merrill C. Tenney. Vol. 3, pp. 1-5. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975.

Walker, H. H., and N. W. Lund. “The Literary Structure of the Book of Habakkuk.” JBL 53 (1934): 355-70.

Zemek, George, Jr. “Interpretive Challenges Relating to Habakkuk 2:4b.” GTJ 1 (1980): 43-69.


Commentaries and special studies

Fausset, A. R. “Zephaniah.” In R. Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary Critical, Experimental and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. 6 vols. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948.

Kapelrud, A. S. The Message of the Prophet Zephaniah. Oslo-Bergen-Troms: Universitetsforlaget, 1975.

Sabottka, L. Zephanja. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1972.

Smith, John M. P. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Zephaniah and Nahum. ICC. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911.

Walker, Larry. Zephaniah. In EBC, vol. 7. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985.


Anderson, George W. “The Idea of the Remnant in the Book of Zephaniah.” Annual of the Swedish Theological Institute 11 (1977-78): 11-14.

Baldacci, Massimo. “Alcuni nuovi esempi di taw infisso nell’ebraico biblico.” Bibbia e Oriente 24 (1982): 107-14.

Cazelles, H. “Sophonie, Jérémie et les Scythes en Palestine.” RB 74 (1964): 24-44.

Christensen, Duane L. “Zephaniah 2:4-15: A Theological Basis for Josiah’s Program of Political Expansion.” CBQ 46 (1984): 669-82.

Clark, David. “Of Beasts and Birds: Zephaniah 2:14.” BT 34 (1982): 243-46.

Clark, David. “Wine on the Lees.” BT 32 (1981): 241-43.

Delcor, M. “Les Kerethim et les Cretois.” VT 28 (1978): 409-22.

De Roche, Michael. “Zephaniah I 2-3” The ‘Sweeping’ of Creation.” VT 30 (1980): 104-9.

Donner, H. “Die Schwellenhüpfer: Beobachtungen zu Zephanja 1, 8f.” JSS 15 (1970): 42-55.

Eiselen, F. C. “Book of Zephaniah.” ISBE-1 5:3144-45.

Elliger, K. “Das Ende der ‘Abendwolfe’ Zeph 3, 3, Hab 1, 8.” In Festschrift A. Bertholet, edited by W. Baumgartner, pp. 158-75. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1950.

Fensham, F. C. “Book of Zephaniah.” IDBSup, pp. 983-84.

Gordis, Robert. “A Rising Tide of Misery.” VT 37 (1987): 487-90.

Gozzo, Serafino M. “Il profeta Sofonia e la dottrina teologica del suo libro.” Antonianum 52 (1977): 3-37.

Hyatt, J. P. “The Date and Background of Zephaniah.” JNES 7 (1948): 25-29.

Hoffman, Y. “The Root QRB as a Legal Term.” JNSL 10 (1982): 67-73.

Ihromi. “Die Haufung der Verben des Jubelns in Zephanja iii 14f., 16-18: rnn, rwà, sÃmh£, àlz, sÃwsà und gi‚l.” VT 33 (1983): 106-10.

Lemaire, Andre. “Note sur le titre bn hmlk dans l’ancien Israël.” Sem 29 (1979): 59-65.

Lohfink, Norbert. “Zefanja und das Israel der Armen.” BK 39 (1984): 100-108.

Nel, J. P. “A Structural and Conceptual Strategy in Zephaniah, chapter 1.” JNSL 15 (1989): 155-67.

Oeming, Manfred. “Gericht Gottes und Geschichte der Völker nach Zef 3, 1-13.” TQ 167 (1987): 289-300.

Olivier, J. P. J. “A Possible Interpretation of the Word s£iyya‚ in Zeph. 2, 13.” JNSL 8 (1980): 95-97.

Renaud, B. “Le Livre de Sophonie. La Theme de YHWH structurant de la Synthese Redactionnelle.” RevScRel 60 (1986): 1-33.

Rice, Gene. “The African Roots of the Prophet Zephaniah.” The Journal of Religious Thought 36 (1979): 21-31.

Schneider, D. A. “Book of Zephaniah.” ISBE 4:1189-91.

Seybold, Klaus. “Text und Auslegung in Zef 2, 1-3.” Biblische Notizen 25 (1984): 49-54.

Smith, L. P., and E. R. Lacheman. “The Authorship of the Book of Zephaniah.” JNES 9 (1950): 137-42.

Stuhlmueller, Carroll. “Justice toward the Poor.” TBT 24 (1986): 385-90.

von Rad, G. “The Origin of the Concept of the Day of Yahweh.” JSS 4 (1959): 97-108.

Williams, D. L. “The Date of Zephaniah.” JBL 82 (1963): 77-88.

Zalcman, Lawrence. “Ambiguity and Assonance at Zephaniah ii 4.” VT 36 (1986): 365-71.

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1. Nahum

Introduction to Nahum

The aim of this chapter and succeeding introductory chapters is to acquaint the reader with the crucial questions that have affected the interpretation of the biblical passages under consideration. Because proper hermeneutical procedure rests primarily upon a basis of historical, grammatical, literary, and theological data, each of the introductory chapters will focus on the crucial problems associated with those areas. Since the solutions suggested in each case are those drawn from the exegesis of the text, the introductions should be considered as an integral part of the expositions that follow.

Historical Context


The terminus a quo for the origin and setting of Nahum’s prophecy can be deduced from the mention (3:18) of the fall of Thebes (663 B.C.), whereas the terminus ad quem is the date of the fall of Nineveh (612 B.C.), an event that is predicted throughout the book. During these five decades the ancient Near East was to witness a great transition. The Assyrian king who ruled through most of this long period was Ashurbanipal (668-626 B.C.). Although he fought some nine military campaigns that advanced the sphere of Assyrian control or influence, from Persia on the east to Arabia and Egypt on the south and southwest, he was largely the heir of the accomplishments of the great Sargonid kings who preceded him. Accordingly, Ashurbanipal could increasingly turn his attention to such internal matters as great building projects, religious pursuits, and the cultivation of the Assyrian beaux arts and belles lettres. Indeed, his reign was the zenith of an Assyrian imperialism, cultural flowering, and socio-political system that spanned the length and breadth of the Fertile Crescent and has been termed the Pax Assyriaca.

The land of Judah, which had resisted successfully a formal takeover by King Sennacherib of Assyria during the days of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chron. 32:1-23; Isa. 36-37), had also been able to maintain its independence during the reign of Sennacherib’s son Esarhaddon (681-668 B.C.). Manasseh (698/97-640 B.C.) then ruled over Judah and was evil to the point of total apostasy. His early spiritual degradation is carefully detailed in the Scriptures (2 Kings 21:1-11, 16; 2 Chron. 33:1-9, 19). Because of his wickedness, the nation of Judah was doomed to divine judgment (2 Kings 21:12-15). Manasseh’s capitulation to Ashurbanipal during his first Egyptian campaign (AR 2:876) only plunged him into deeper sin until at last (c. 648 B.C.) his duplicity caused him to be summoned to an audience before the Assyrian king. Ashurbanipal had just subdued his seditious brother Shamash-shum-ukin and was then occupying his brother’s base of support in Babylon. After being called there, Manasseh repented and was subsequently released and returned to Judah. But although the Chronicler reports Manasseh’s spiritual transformation at that time, few lasting gains were made in Judah despite the reforms that Manasseh attempted. True reform would tarry until the reign of his grandson Josiah (640-609 B.C.).

With the accession of Josiah, Judah’s fortunes experienced political, economic, and spiritual reversal. Because the young king was a godly man, his rule was marked by repeated periods of reform and iconoclastic purge. His order for the repair of the Temple in 621 B.C. occasioned the “chance” finding of a copy of the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22:8-13), an event that brought further royally initiated spiritual reforms and religious celebration to Judah (23:1-25; 2 Chron. 34:32-35:19).

By the mid-640s Ashurbanipal’s campaigning was over, and he began increasingly to enjoy the fruits of the long years of Assyrian expansion. Ashurbanipal mentions spending much time in the care and aggrandizement of Nineveh. By the last decade of his reign, signs of Assyrian weakness began to surface. Ancient sources suggest that Ashurbanipal himself grew indolent and degenerate. At any rate, with his death in 626 B.C. Assyrian fortunes took a sharp decline. Very shortly the Chaldean Nabopolassar succeeded in gaining independence for Babylon and, having found common cause with the Medes and others, began to reduce Assyrian territory. When in 614 B.C. the ancient political and religious center of Ashur fell to the Medes, the fate of Nineveh itself hung in the balance. In 612 B.C. the great Assyrian imperial capital fell to the combined pressure of the Medes, Chaldeans (Neo-Babylonians), and a people known as the Ummanmanda (Scythians?), presaging the end of the great Neo-Assyrian era (745-605 B.C.). Subsequent defeats at the hands of the Chaldean Nebuchadnezzar II (also Nebuchadrezzar) at Harran (609 B.C.) and Carchemish (605 B.C.) delivered the coup mortel to Assyria. She would not arise again (cf. Nah. 1:9).

The end of the seventh century and the onset of the sixth was thus a critical period for the ancient Near East. With the collapse of Assyria, the greater part of the Fertile Crescent was ruled jointly by Medes and Chaldeans. The chief exception was Egypt, whose Saite (twenty-sixth) Dynasty managed to maintain Egypt’s last flourishing period of political and cultural prominence until 525 B.C. As for Judah, when the godly Josiah lost his life in opposing the Egyptian pharaoh Necho II, vainly attempting to come to the aid of the beleagured Assyrian forces in Harran, the country fell into the hands of Josiah’s worthless heirs Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, all of whom lacked his personal wisdom, strength of character, and spiritual fiber. By 586 B.C. Jerusalem itself lay in ashes before the onslaught of Nebuchadnezzar, who, having besieged the city three times, took huge booty and a long train of captives with him to Babylon. The end of the monarchic era (c. 1003-586 B.C.) had come to the city of Zion.

The book of Nahum is intimately bound up with this period of dramatic change. But to what portion of the half century from the fall of Thebes to that of Nineveh does it belong? If one believes that the reference to the Theban collapse is a near memory, and hence a lesson fresh in the minds of Nahum’s readers, and that the prophecies concerning the fall of Nineveh are predictive of events in the fairly distant future, he will tend to date the book early in the period. For some, a date is assigned as early as the decade from 660-650 B.C. (e.g., Freeman, Maier). Those who place more weight on God’s prophets as keen critics and observers of the times or who discount the force of predictive prophecy tend to date the book late, either close to the time of Nineveh’s fall (cf. Bullock, Craigie) or at—perhaps even after—its capture (e.g., Sellin, J. M. P. Smith; Haupt places it as late as the Maccabean era).

Conservatives usually assign a date to the book that antedates the fall of Nineveh, but they differ widely as to how long before 612 B.C. the book is to be reckoned. It seems to me that a balanced decision reached via an evaluation of the facts of external history, blended together with the internal data drawn from the text of Nahum, and allowing full force to the possibility of supernaturally communicated predictive prophecy favors a date closer to the terminus a quo. The facts of external history seem irreconcilable with proposed later dates.

(1) After the fall of Thebes in 663 B.C., the virtual withdrawal of Assyrian forces and the Assyrians’ preoccupation with other problems nearer home allowed the formation of Egypt’s twenty-sixth dynasty (655-525 B.C.). Although the capital lay in the Nile Delta, Thebes immediately became an important administrative and religious center of the kingdom. The lesson of Thebes’s demise would take on increasingly lessened significance for Assyria after 654 B.C. Freeman quite properly remarks, “From the tone of the prophecy it may be inferred that the destruction of Thebes was a comparatively recent event still fresh in the minds of both Israel and Assyria.”1

(2) A civil war between Ashurbanipal and Shamash-shum-ukin was settled in 648 B.C. only after a bitter struggle and a gruesome massacre at the latter’s power base in Babylon. From that time on, Nahum might well be expected to hold up the example of age-old Babylon, not Thebes, to the Assyrians.

(3) The closer that events come to 612 B.C. one would expect some mention of the forces that were to spell Assyria’s doom, such as the Chaldeans (cf. Jer. 46:25-26; 50:17, 18; Ezek. 29:17-20; Hab. 1:6; etc.). Although this is admittedly an argument from silence, the lack of discussion concerning the Chaldeans, Medes, or Scythians could imply a time well before they came to international prominence.

These data favor an early setting for the book of Nahum, one soon after the fall of Thebes, and the internal data of the book tend to corroborate this conclusion.2 Rather than reflecting the situation during the latter years of Ashurbanipal and those of his two successors Ashur-etil-ilani (626-623 B.C.) and Sin-shar-ishkun (623-612 B.C.), the book of Nahum presents its readers with a strong imperialistic Assyria (1:12; 2:13; 3:1)—a nation that has repeatedly pillaged, plundered, and humbled others (2:11; 3:4, 11), including Judah whom she has reduced to vassalage (1:12b-13, 15; 2:2), and that has built Nineveh into a wealthy (2:11-14; 3:16) and seemingly impregnable fortress (2:11; 3:12). Conditions thus look extremely bright for Assyria but dismally dark for Judah. With this in mind, a date soon after Manasseh’s subservience to Assyria—during the depths of his apostasy and before his summons to Babylon and subsequent repentance (c. 648 B.C.)—and soon after the fall of Thebes (663 B.C.), while Ashurbanipal was pressing his claims to the full extent of the Fertile Crescent, seems most reconcilable with all the data of Scripture and history.

Such a position also best allows the elements of supernaturalism and predictive prophecy to be felt. That God could and did empower His prophets to speak of events in the distant future is the uniform declaration of the prophets themselves (e.g., 1 Kings 13:2; Isa. 44:28; 45:1; Hos. 1:4-5; Mic. 5:2; Hab. 1:6), so that no a priori reason can be given for denying the possibility that Nahum predicted the fall of Nineveh some two generations beforehand. Contrariwise, the closer one gets to 612 B.C. the less one needs to depend on such matters and the more apt he is to hold to the theory that the prophets were merely exceptionally astute observers of their times. All things considered, a date between 660 and 654 B.C. would appear to be most likely for the setting of the book.


No satisfactory reason exists for suggesting that Nahum never existed or was not the primary author of much of the material that bears his name. (See also the discussion under the literary background of the book.) As for the person of the prophet, however, little is known beyond that which can be gleaned from his writings and the statement in the superscription that he was an “Elkoshite.” The latter statement has been understood to refer to a geographical location, identified variously as (1) a village (modern Elkush) on the left bank of the Tigris (Ewald, Lange), (2) a city (modern El-Kauze) in Galilee (Jerome), (3) Capernaum in Galilee (Kephar Nahum = City of Nahum), a view often put forward in the Middle Ages, and (4) a city in Judah, at least three sites in the southern kingdom having been suggested, the most prominent of which (championed by several early church Fathers) lay within the tribal boundaries of Simeon. None of the views is conclusive, however. Consequently the term remains as enigmatic as the well-known crux of Elijah the Tishbite (1 Kings 17:1). Despite the author’s apparent acquaintance with Nineveh’s temples (1:14), walls (2:5) and river gates (2:6), her military forces and tactics (2:3-5; 3:2-3), her economic status (2:9, 11-12; 3:14), and her lack of moral fiber (1:11; 2:12; 3:4, 11-13, 16-18), and although on occasion he uses Assyrian words (3:17), all of this is rather general knowledge, and the basic diction and point of view of the book are the sort of mainstream Hebrew language and thought common to the southern kingdom. It could be, of course, that Nahum’s family had been carried away during the deportation of the northern kingdom to Assyria, where he gained firsthand knowledge of matters, and that Nahum subsequently managed to make his way back to Judah, where he preached his messages of judgment against the oppressors and of hope for the beleagured people of Judah.

Far more important is to consider the character of the prophet. A careful reading of the book reveals that the author had a high view of God and his Word (1:2-10, 12, 14; 2:2, 13; 3:5), preached against idolatry (1:14), immorality (3:4), injustice (2:11-12; 3:16, 19), and all manner of sin (1:10; 3:4-7, 11), and believed strongly in the eventual restoration of all of God’s people (1:12-13, 15; 2:2). Further, it is clear that he was a perceptive man, one who noted the courses of nature (1:4, 8; 2:2; 3:12, 15-17, 18), society (1:14, 15; 2:11-13; 3:1, 13, 14, 17, 18), and history (3:8-10) as well. As will be noted in the next section, Nahum was also a poet par excellence, so he must have been born into a family of means where he could receive a fine education and literary training. Maier’s observation is well taken:

His reverence for the Almighty, trust in divine justice and goodness, condemnation of national iniquity, positive conviction that God will keep His word—these are qualities of true greatness. Add to that Nahum’s mighty intellect, his patriotism and courage, his rare, almost unequaled, gift of vivid presentation, and he indeed looms as one of those outstanding figures in human history who have appeared only at rare intervals.3

Literary Context

Literary Features

A critical analysis of the literary features of the book of Nahum reveals the consummate craftsmanship of its author. Although it is obvious that the subject of the book is the judgment of Nineveh, the theme and development are given in a twofold presentation (chaps. 1; 2-3). In the first portion, God is declared to be a just judge of the ungodly (1:2) with whom, though He is patient, He will ultimately deal with equity (1:3-6) and whom, whereas He tenderly cares for the godly, He will destroy with their plotting (1:7-10). These general remarks concerning the character and work of God are then applied directly to the current situation: Nineveh, the plotter and afflicter of God’s people, will experience the just judgment of God, whereas a previously punished Judah will know relief from affliction and be restored to peace and joy (1:11-15).

In the second section, Nahum repeats the double theme: God will judge Nineveh and restore His people (2:1-2). All of this is immediately carried forward in a visionary rehearsal of the attack against Nineveh (2:3-10) and is closed by a taunt song in which Assyria is compared to a lion trapped in Nineveh, its own lair (2:11-13). The theme is developed further in a second description of the fall of Nineveh (given in the form of a pronouncement woe) but with emphasis upon the reasons for Nineveh’s fall, particularly its lustful rapacity (3:1-7). This section, too, is closed by a taunt song in which Nineveh is declared to be no better than mighty Thebes. Thebes had boastfully counted on her basic defensive features, yet her recent fall is known to all. Accordingly, Nineveh’s fate is all the more certain. A sovereign God is about to judge the Assyrians and Nineveh for their endless cruelty (3:8-19).

Thus Nahum’s central message concerning the doom and demise of Nineveh proceeds in a bifid structure (1:2-15; 2:1-3:19) that is patterned in accordance with theme (1:2; 2:1-2), development (1:2-10; 23-10; 3:1-7), and application (1:11-15; 2:11-13; 3:8-19). Nahum closes each major section (1:15; 3:18-19), as well as two subsections (2:13; 3:7), with a refrain concerning the activity/inactivity of a messenger.

This bifurcation of theme finds corroboration in the canonical form of the book. The author has developed his work in accordance with principles of compilation and composition known to the Semitic world and demonstrably practiced by the Old Testament writers.4 In addition to the wedding of structure with theme and development mentioned above, Nahum makes good use of such compilational techniques as bookending/enveloping to enclose whole sections (e.g., scattering”—2:1; 3:18-19), subsections ( בְּלִיַּעַל [ beŒliyyaàal], “wicked(ness)”—1:11, 15), and even individual cola ( יהוה [YHWH], “Yahweh/The LORD”—1:3). He also employs hooking/stitching to link together the distinctive units at various levels. That the major subsections are thus connected may be seen in that the opening statement of theme (1:2) is hooked to the following thematic development via the catchword “LORD” and the theme of divine wrath (1:3-10); the idea of plotting links 1:3-10 with 1:11-15, and “destroying” binds 1:11-15 and 2:1-2. Further hooks can be shown to link the following units: attacking (2:1-2; 2:3-10), plundering (2:3-10; 2:11-13), “chariots” and the phrase “I am against you” (2:11-13; 3:1-7), and death and destruction (3:1-7; 3:8-19). Hooking words (stitch words) or ideas also connect not only major sections but also subsections (e.g., “fire,” 3:13, 15).

In addition to the previously mentioned instances of refrain to mark major sections or subsections, Nahum at times employs refrain and repetition to signal either the beginning or ending of a smaller unit. Examples include “not (again)/no (one)” (1:15; 2:9, 13; 3:3, 7(?), 19), הִנֵּה ( hinne„h), “behold/lo” (1:15; 2:13; 3:5, 13), the motif of “fire” that “consumes” (1:6, 10; 23, 13; 3:13, 15), and the use of rhetorical question (1:6; 2:11; 3:8, 19).

Both broad types of literary form are attested in this short prophecy: prose (e.g., 2:1-10) and poetry (e.g., 1:2-10). There is also an abundance of literary tropes and features, such as metaphor and simile (1:3b, 6, 10, 13; 2:4, 7, 8, 11-13; 3:4, 5-6, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19), synecdoche (2:4, 10, 13; 3:13), picturesque brevity (2:1, 9, 10b; 3:2-3), rhetorical question (1:6; 2:11; 3:8, 19), irony (2:1, 8; 3:14, 15), satire (2:11-13; 3:8-13, 14-19), woe (3:1-7), enjambment (2:12; 3:7), chiasm (1:2; 3:1-7), staircase parallelism (3:15), terraced parallelism (1:2), pivot-pattern parallelism (2:4), an acrostic poem (1:2-10), and numerous examples of alliteration and assonance that can be seen in the Hebrew text (e.g., 1:2-3a, 4b, 5; 2:1, 2, 6-7, 9, 11, 12, 13; 3:4, 7, 10, 18). Though this is not an exhaustive list of Nahum’s literary devices, it is obvious not only that they span the entire length of the book (thereby arguing for the unity of the whole prophecy) but that his praise as a poet is well deserved. Bewer remarks: “Nahum was a great poet. His word pictures are superb, his rhetorical skill is beyond praise.”5 J. M. P. Smith observes:

Though the rhythm and metre of Nahum are not so smooth and regular as is the case with some Heb. prophets, yet in some respects the poetry of Nahum is unsurpassed in the OT. His excellence is not in sublimity of thought, depth of feeling, purity of motive, or insight into truth and life. It is rather in his descriptive powers. He has an unexcelled capacity to bring a situation vividly before the mind’s eye.... Accurate and detailed observation assists in giving his pictures verisimilitude. Lowth rightly said, “Ex omnibus minoribus prophetis nemo videtur aequare sublimitatem, ardorem et audaces spiritus Nahumi.”6

It can be said with good reason, then, that Nahum was the poet laureate among the Minor Prophets.

Even more important for exegetes of the book is the realization that Nahum’s literary skill is not merely a display of his craftsmanship for his readers or a means of enlivening an otherwise colorless statement. Rather, his literary figures not only assist and enrich the understanding of the meaning of the text but are the very form and content in which its meaning is to be apprehended. Further, they demand that the reader respond to their message in the totality of his being. One will not appreciate so fine a piece of literature as Nahum’s prophecy unless he approaches it with his whole person—intellectually, emotionally, and volitionally, and, above all, in full dependence upon the Holy Spirit.


In accordance with its theme, development, and structural guidelines, the book may be outlined as follows:

Superscription (1:1)

I. The Doom of Nineveh Declared (1:2-15 [HB 1:2-2:1])

A. Theme: God Is a God of Justice Who Will Punish the Wicked and Avenge His Own (1:2)

B. Development: A Hymn to the Sovereign God (1:2-10)

1. Who defeats His foes (1:2-6)

2. Who destroys the plotters (1:7-10)

C. Application: God’s Justice for Nineveh and Judah (1:11-15 [HB 1:11-2:1])

II. The Doom of Nineveh Described (2:1-3:19 [HB 2:2-3:19])

A. Theme: God Is a Just Governor of the Nations Who Will Punish Wicked Nineveh and Restore His Own (2:1-2 [HB 2:2-3])

B. Development: First Description of Nineveh’s Demise (2:3-10 [HB 2:4-11])

C. Application: The Discredited City (2:11-13 [HB 2:12-14])

D. Development: Second Description of Nineveh’s demise (3:1-7)

E. Application: The Defenseless Citadel (3:8-19)

1. A comparison of Nineveh and Thebes (3:8-13)

2. A concluding condemnation of Nineveh (3:14-19)


Every one of the forty-seven verses of this short prophecy has been attacked by higher critics as being spurious. Contemporary critical scholarship tends to hold that at least one-third of the material was written by someone other than Nahum. Special targets for the attack center in parts of the title, the acrostic poem (1:2-10), the “hopeful sayings” (1:12-13; 2:1, 3), and the closing dirge (3:18-19). The result has been a rather uniform denial of the unity of the book.7

All of this, however, rests on the shakiest of premises. The rejection of part of the superscription because it is a double title flies in the face of the same phenomenon elsewhere (e.g., Hos. 1:1, 2; Amos 1:1; Mic. 1:1; cf. Isa. 13:1). The supposedly interpolated acrostic hymn of praise can be seen as part and parcel of the message and development of the entire book and integral to the words directed toward Nineveh and Judah that follow (1:11-15). Rejecting the genuineness of the “hopeful sayings” would necessitate doing so in virtually every prophetic book, for the prophets uniformly combine condemnation and comfort in their messages. It must be added that the messages of hope in Nahum depend not only on the process of Nineveh/Assyria’s downfall but also on God’s use of nations, which He will ultimately judge, to bring conditions favorable to Judah’s restoration. Judgment and hope are thus inextricably intertwined; both are integral to the theme, development, and applications found in the book. The attempt of several critics to deny the closing dirge to Nahum is subjective at best and erroneous in fact, for it forms a proper ending refrain not only to the previous taunt song (3:8ff.) but also to the entire second half of the book (2:1-3:19).

The various denials of the unity of the book are thus arbitrary and without foundation. As the previous discussion has shown, a demonstrable unity of theme and development is wedded to the structure of the entire prophecy. Further, there is thematic unity to the book in the author’s employment of several key words and at least ten literary motifs sprinkled throughout.8 Indeed, Nahum’s literary genius has enabled him to write a carefully composed and tightly structured prophecy that is unsurpassed by any of the writing prophets. The logical conclusion is that the book of Nahum is a unified literary piece, the product of one skilled author—the prophet Nahum.

Occasion And Purpose

It would seem apparent that it was revealed to Nahum, who lived in the dark times of the wicked Manasseh and witnessed the reduction of his nation to vassalage during the early campaigns of Ashurbanipal (which eventuated in the fall of Thebes), that Israel’s God was yet in control of earth’s history and still its sovereign despite all that had so recently come to pass. Further, these events were but a prelude and a means to the judgment of both Judah and Nineveh and were, in turn, part of the process that would accomplish the restoration of God’s people. Accordingly Nahum writes his short prophecy (1) to announce the doom of Nineveh and the demise of the mighty Assyrian empire and (2) to bring a message of consolation to a sin-weary and oppressed Judah.

Some critical scholars, however, have suggested that Nahum’s writings originated as part of a liturgical celebration (von Rad). Various forms of this view exist, with some (Humbert) postulating that the prophecy was composed for use in a liturgical setting at a New Year’s festival celebrating Nineveh’s capture in 612 B.C. The opening hymn and those verses containing rhetorical questions have been cited as proof of a series of solo recitatives and antiphonal responses designed to dramatize the fall and destruction of Nineveh. Others (Sellin, Fohrer) isolate several separate liturgical fragments or find a celebration of late liturgical poems commemorating the event. (Haupt even suggests that two of the conjectured four poems were written as late as the Maccabean era.) A further variation proposes that this prophetic material had much in common with Near Eastern mythological motifs celebrating the death and revivification of a cult god that were dramatized in an annual festival, especially in Mesopotamia, and adapted for use in the worship of Yahweh (Haldar, Mowinckel).9

All such theories, ingenious as some may be, are foundationless (only 1:15 bears any resemblance to a liturgical observance) and fail to deal adequately with the fact that Nahum’s prophecy looks forward to the distant fall of Nineveh and bears little resemblance to such celebrations as the Babylonian Aki„tu festival. Such theories attest the stubborn persistence of a sort of pan-Babylonianism that has increasingly been rejected by Assyriologists and Biblicists of all persuasions. Thus H. W. F. Saggs declares, “The extravagant and indiscriminate enthusiasm with which its proponents argued for the Pan-Babylonian Hypothesis led to its rejection, both from the Old Testament and from the Assyriological side, though it did not pass without leaving some effects upon the course of Biblical Studies.”10

Text And Canonicity

The MT of Nahum is especially well preserved, with possible corruptions being cited in few places (e.g., 1:4b; 3:18). Cathcart’s pronouncement remains true:

Recently discovered witnesses of the text of Nahum, including the Pesher of Nahum (4QpNah) found at Oumran; the Hebrew scroll of the Minor Prophets from Wadi Murabba’ât, and fragments of a Greek text of the Minor Prophets from Nahal Hever, indicate that the consonantal text found in the Hebrew Bible today has been handed down with incredible accuracy for nearly two thousand years at least.11

Most critical suggestions therefore deal with such details as proper pointing or word division rather than with the reading of the consonantal text and revolve around matters of Semitic cognates and questions of Northwest Semitic grammar. Reference to the LXX and Syriac versions has proved to be of limited value.

The canonicity of the book has never been seriously questioned. Its prevalence among biblical manuscripts from the intertestamental period, its utilization by the sectaries at Qumran as a source for application to certain events in their own day (probably in the days of the Jewish priest/king Alexander Jannaeus [103-76 B.C.] and Demetrius III, king of Syria [c. 95-83 B.C.]), and its employment by the early church Fathers (e.g., Tertullian, Lucian) give witness to its acceptance and usage. Doubtless it was known to the apostle Paul as well (cf. Rom. 10:15 with Isa. 52:7; Nah. 1:15). These facts concerning the canonicity of Nahum are in harmony with Beckwith’s conclusion:

Looking back over all this evidence (nearly the whole of which dates from before the ‘Council’ of Jamnia, where the Jewish canon is usually supposed to have been closed), one notes that, with the exception of the three short books Ruth, Song of Songs and Esther, the canonicity of every book of the Hebrew Bible is attested, most of them several times over.12

Theological Context

Perhaps the most basic theological perspective of Nahum is that of God’s sovereignty. God is seen as supreme over nature (1:4-6, 8), nations (1:15; 2:1, 3-7)—including Nineveh/Assyria (1:11-12a, 14; 2:8-10, 11-13; 3:5-7, 11-19), Judah (1:12b-13; 2:2), and Thebes/Egypt (3:8-10)—and all people (1:3, 6, 7-10). As a sovereign God He is also the controller of earth’s history (1:12; 2:13; 3:5-7), who moves in just judgment against His foes (1:2-3a, 8-10, 14; 2:13; 3:5-7, 11-19) but with saving concern for those who put their trust in Him (1:7-8a, 12b-13, 15; 2:2). God is shown also to be a God of revelation (1:1) who, although He is a jealous (1:2) and omnipotent God (1:3) who abhors sin (3:4-6, 19), is also long-suffering (1:3) and good (1:7) and has distinct purposes for His redeemed people.

In that regard, many have suggested that in adapting Isaiah’s messianic promise (Isa. 52:7) to his message concerning Nineveh’s downfall (Nah. 1:15), Nahum understands that God’s dealings with Judah and Assyria were part of His teleological purposes in the Messiah. In any case, it is certain that the messianic import of Nah. 1:15 was utilized by the early church and has brought comfort to the saints throughout the succeeding ages, who, while keeping their spiritual exercises, look forward with confidence and in expectation to that One who shall reign in righteousness and execute perfect peace.

One final note might be raised with regard to Nahum’s theological perspective. For in employing such literary devices as satire (2:11-13; 3:8-13, 14-17) and woe (3:1-7) to predict the doom of Nineveh, his language borders on the use of imprecation and is thus reminiscent of the tone of many psalms (e.g., Pss. 35, 58, 59, 69, 83, 109, and 139). The problem with all such cases is as J. G. Vos points out, “How can it be right to wish or pray for the destruction or doom of others?”13

A number of solutions may be suggested. (1) The prayers are uttered by men of faith who are concerned not for personal vengeance but for God’s holy reputation. Thus C. K. Lehman, who says, “The defeat of Israel would be a reproach to God’s name.”14 (2) Such men wrote under the influence of the Holy Spirit and were looking at the whole situation from God’s point of view. Gleason Archer remarks,

As long as the wicked continued to triumph their prosperity seemed to refute the holiness and sovereignty of the God of Israel. A Hebrew believer in the Old Testament age could only chafe in deep affliction of soul as long as such a state of affairs continued. Identifying himself completely with God’s cause, he could only regard God’s enemies as his own, and implore God to uphold His own honor and justify His own righteousness by inflicting a crushing destruction upon those who either in theory or in practice denied His sovereignty and His law.15

(3) The imprecator shared God’s hatred of sin and longed to see God’s righteousness vindicated. Numerous cries in the Psalms (e.g., Pss. 7:9; 28; 45:1, 13; 59:13; 69:6; 139:23-24) as well as several places in Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes attest this truth. (4) The imprecator was concerned with a “zeal for God and God’s kingdom. . . . And as he was God’s representative, his enemies ... must be accounted the enemies of God himself and his cause on earth.”16 (5) Such prayers are often evangelistic. Although they justly denounce the enemies of God and invoke His wrath against them, they at times provide a sounding board for the God who cares for the souls of all men and peoples (cf. Ps. 58:11; Jonah 4:11). (6) Imprecations can be in part “prophetic teachings as to the attitude of God toward sin and impenitent and persistent sinners.17 They remind their hearers that a holy God will yet put down all personal and corporate sin and reign in righteousness over all the earth. (7) The judgment of the wicked and the vindication of the faithful would “provide an opportunity for the righteous to praise God ([Pss.] 7:17; 35:18, 28).”18

It is evident that Nahum’s outlook on the fate of wicked Nineveh bears a strong resemblance to that of the imprecators. It is a good Lord who must and will take vengeance, not Nahum or his people (1:2-4, 7, 14; 2:13; 3:5-6). Essentially it is God’s sovereign authority and reputation for righteousness that are at stake in Judah’s controversy with Nineveh (1:2-6). Nineveh’s idolatry, rapacity, inordinate pride, and endless cruelty were so great that they called for divine intervention (1:11, 14; 2:11-13; 3:4-7, 19). Indeed such would give the prospect of genuine peace, rejoicing, and the renewed opportunity to worship God in perpetuity (1:7-8, 12-13, 15; 3:19).

If Nahum’s words seem harsh, then, it is because he must use appropriate literary convention to express the seriousness of the situation. As one who understands the divine perspective and senses the issues in God’s teleology that are at stake, he cannot do otherwise. For while “the Lord is good” (1:7, NIV) and patient, He “will surely not leave (the guilty) unpunished” (1:3). Whatever they plot against the Lord, “He will make an end (of it); trouble will not arise a second time” (1:9). Nahum’s assurances reinforce the twin truths of God’s justice against sinners and care for “those who seek refuge in him” (1:7), at the same time looking forward longingly to that final message of good news when the Ninevehs of this world have been silenced and believing people may live in peace and everlasting felicity.

The Doom of Nineveh Declared
(Nahum 1:1-15 [HB 1:1-2:1])

Nahum begins his prophecy with a notice of its central focus—Nineveh (1:1)—and then turns his attention to a description of Nineveh’s certain doom (1:2-15; see n. 2 in the introduction). Throughout the book Nahum’s prophecies deal with Nineveh’s doom, its eventual defeat, and its destruction. In the opening section, doom is declared to be certain, because it has been decreed by the sovereign and just Judge of the world, who deals equitably with all.

Nahum begins his prophecy with a two-part hymn that sets forth the theme of the section and depicts selected key elements of God’s nature. The hymn emphasizes that God is a God of justice who will punish the wicked and avenge His own (1:2). Further, He is a sovereign and mighty God who, although He is long-suffering, will defeat His guilty foes (1:3-6) and who, though He is beneficent, will destroy those who plot against Him (1:7-10). The rehearsal of these general truths concerning the character and work of God provides a foundation for their application to the world situation of Nahum’s day. Nineveh, the plotter against and afflicter of God’s people, will experience the just judgment of God, while a previously punished Judah will know relief from affliction and be restored to peace and joy (1:11-15).

In recording his opening prophetic remarks Nahum uses several literary devices. In addition to the initial double psalm of praise (1:2-10), the first chapter displays chiasmus (1:2, 3), terraced structure (1:2), and various forms of paronomasia, including plays on words (1:2, 3, 15), sounds (1:2, 3, 4b, 10), and even letters (’, n, q [1:2-3a], g [1:5], s [1:10], [1:15]). Metaphor (1:3), simile (1:6), and rhetorical question (1:6a, 10) are also in evidence.

Critical scholars have recognized in the majestic hymn to Yahweh in 1:2-10 the skeleton of an acrostic poem added by a later editor that has suffered some corruption and displacement in the course of transmission. Thus, for example, J. M. P. Smith places v. 2b after v. 9 in order to have an n line in proper place. He also drops v. 3a as a gloss. Because varying results have been arrived at by different scholars19 in recasting the proposed acrostic, most conservative commentators have rejected the theory altogether.20 But the hymnic nature of vv. 2-10 is undeniable. Though it may be impossible to recover the “lost acrostic” with demonstrable certainty, the task may not be totally without merit. As I have pointed out elsewhere,

if, then, rather than resorting to wild emendations and wholesale transpositions one views the beginning and ending of the canonical poem to be deliberately weighted so as to form a distinct frame for the psalm, a fairly consistent picture emerges: aleph, six lines (vv. 2-3a), beth—yodh, two lines each, and eight lines of kaph (perhaps to balance the six lines of aleph plus the two lines of superscription). The point would be that in Nahum’s acrostic arrangement, the prescribed letter of the alphabet need only occur within (not necessarily only as the first letter of the first word; cf. zayin and yodh lines) the line, although in several cases there is a deliberate concatenation of the letter in question in the line(s) devoted to it.21

The data may be conveniently tabulated in the following chart:

















































‡ Accomplished via text-critical methods.

Superscription (1:1)


An oracle concerning Nineveh;

The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.

Exegesis and Exposition

The superscription to Nahum’s prophecy is unusual in that it is doubly constructed. The prophecies that follow are termed both מַשָּׂא ( masÃsÃa„á, “an oracle”*) and חֲזוֹן ( h£aŒzo‚n, “a vision”). Because the former term is derived from the Hebrew verb נָשָׂא ( na„sÃa„á, lift up”), two meanings have traditionally been assigned to the derived noun: (1) “burden” and (2) “oracle.” Those who favor the first translation (e.g., Calvin, Hengstenberg, Keil, Luther, Maier) call attention to the more natural reading of the root in the idea of a burden that is carried, whether that of animals (2 Kings 5:17) or men (Jer. 17:21, 22; cf. Deut. 1:12), and to the customary following of the term by an objective genitive (“the burden of/concerning X”). Those who take the noun to mean something like “oracle,” “utterance,” or simply “prophecy” (e.g., Laetsch, E. J. Young) point out that the term is used often to introduce nonburdensome prophecies (e.g., Zech. 12:1; Mal. 1:1) and that the associated verb is used of speaking in such cases as lifting up the voice (Isa. 3:7; 42:11), of lifting/taking up a parable (Num. 23:7), proverb (Isa. 14:4), prayer (Isa. 37:4), lamentation (Amos 5:1), or the name of God (Ex. 20:7).22 The strength of the Ugaritic parallels as well as the many biblical examples of na„sÃa„á used in a context of “lifting up the voice” appear to tip the weight in favor of the latter suggestion. Thus Barker remarks:

The verb is used of lifting up or uttering a ma„sŒa„l (“oracle”) in Numbers 23:7, 18; 24:3, 15, 20, 21, 23, and of lifting up the voice (NIV, “shouted”) in Judges 9:7 (“voice” is omitted from the Hebrew idiom in Isa 3:7; 42:2). Na„sÃa„á, then, means not only “to carry,” hence the meaning “burden” for masÃsÃa„á, but also “to lift up” in a more general sense. Therefore masÃsÃa„á could refer to the “lifting up” of the voice—i.e., to utter an oracle, hence the meaning “oracle.”23

By also calling his prophecy a vision, Nahum underscores the fact that what he says is not of his own invention but is that which God has specially revealed to him (cf. Num. 24:4, 16; 2 Chron. 32:32; Isa. 2:1; Dan. 2:26; 4:10 [HB 4:7]; Amos 1:1; Obad. 1; cf. Mic. 1:1). At the outset, then, Nahum makes clear that his words were not his own insights based upon his observations of the events of his time. Rather, they were nothing less than the message given to him by the sovereign God whose Word he must deliver, however difficult it might be.

Nahum’s prophecy is directed at Nineveh.* The mention of Nineveh in the superscription is significant in that without this notation the direction of the message of the entire first chapter could be unclear. Indeed, Nineveh is not specifically named in the original text until 2:9 (English 2:8). The inclusion of the Assyrian capital in the superscription, therefore, identified the object of the announcement of God’s judgment with which the book begins.

Additional Notes

1:1 The term מַשָּׂא can stand at the head of individual oracles (e.g., Isa. 13:1; 14:28; 15:1; 17:1; 19:1; 21:1, 11, 13; 22:1; 23:1; 30:6; Ezek. 12:10; Zech. 9:1; 12:1) or whole books (e.g., Hab. 1:1; Mal. 1:1), as here. Nahum takes his place beside Isaiah (13:1) and Habakkuk (1:1) in linking מַשָּׂא with some form of the root חזה (“see”; cf. Lam. 2:14). Perhaps the latter root24 and its derivatives, while dealing primarily with the communication of received revelation, also imply that the prophet or חֹזֶה (“seer”) was one who as God’s chosen servant saw things from God’s point of view and attempted to get others to see them too.25 The word “seer” may further indicate that Nahum was allowed a visionary foreglimpse of Nineveh’s actual siege and fall.26

The appearance of the double title has caused many to question the authenticity of the superscription and to carry their suspicions to other portions of the book as well.27 As Maier points out, however, the parts of the double title complement one another and are, in any case, similarly paralleled in the headings to Amos, Micah, and Isaiah’s prophecy against Babylon (Isa. 13:1).

Nineveh: Because the name of the Assyrian capital occurs in the superscription, the NIV has not gone beyond the bounds of translational propriety in inserting “Nineveh” into the text in at least three places before 2:8 (HB v. 9) (1:11, 14; 2:1 [HB v. 2]). Similar to this {1.21}insertion at obvious places is the NIV inclusion of “O Judah” at 1:12, a text that clearly anticipates the statement of 1:15 (HB 2:1). The NIV could just as well have read “Nineveh” rather than “the city” at 2:7 (HB v. 8).

Like Obadiah, who prophesied against Edom, Nahum’s prophecy is single-minded, envisioning the judgment of but one city/nation—Nineveh/Assyria. Unlike the slim hope that Obadiah holds out for Edom at the last (vv. 19-21), Nahum has no such comfort for Nineveh.

סֵפֶר (“book”): Keil’s suggestion that the inclusion of the word “book” in the superscription indicates that the prophecy was written but never delivered orally is perhaps an overstatement. The use of the term may simply suggest that Nahum’s burdensome vision, whether delivered orally or not, has now under divine inspiration been committed to a permanent record that all may read (cf. Hab. 2:2).

Nahum: H. Hummel suggests that the meaning of Nahum’s name (“comfort”) is quite apropos:

It may be accidental (some critics think it deliberately artificial), but the name “Nahum” superbly summarizes the book’s message. God’s justice means judgment on the enemy, but “comfort” to the faithful. The book thus exemplifies the role which “Gentile oracles” play in all the prophets. The point is not that God’s people go scot-free, but precisely the reverse: if God so judges those whom He employs temporarily as instruments of His judgment upon His unfaithful people, how much more fearful the judgment upon His own people if they finally miss the message.28

For the term “Elkoshite,” see the introduction under Authorship. It may be added here that there seems to be little warrant for following Schulz’s conjecture that the second half of the superscription (“the book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite”) indicates the existence of a postexilic author who, basing his own redaction on an earlier poem aimed at the doom of Nineveh, whose fall he saw as related to an eschatological process that means salvation for Israel, created a final edition that both spoke to the situation of his own day and was intended to be read as a whole in a worship ceremony.29

A. Theme (1:2)

Nahum’s prophecy begins with an indication of its theme: God is a God of justice who will punish the wicked and avenge His own (1:2). That theme dominates not only the hymnic material in which it is set (1:2-10) but also the whole first section of the book (1:2-15).{1.22}


A jealous* God

      and an avenger is Yahweh;

Yahweh is an avenger

      and Lord of wrath.

An avenger is Yahweh to His foes,

      and He is a keeper* (of wrath) against His enemies.

Exegesis and Exposition

The words that form both the opening lines of Nahum’s hymn of praise and the statement of theme of that hymn as well as the whole first section are punctuated by the threefold repetition of the name of Yahweh over four lines of poetry dealing with God’s avenging wrath: (1) Yahweh is a jealous God and an avenger; (2) Yahweh is an avenger and Lord of wrath; (3) Yahweh is an avenger against His foes and is a keeper of wrath against His enemies (1:2). He is described at the outset as being a “jealous and avenging God” (NIV). The first term can be understood here either in the sense of being jealous or of being zealous. The latter idea appears to be the original significance from which either the positive (zeal, jealousy) or negative (envy) connotations arose. Normally its use with God and Israel rests upon the basis of the covenant, especially as expressed by the figure of the marriage relationship.* As a jealous husband, Israel’s covenant God abhors spiritual adultery (cf. Ex. 20:4-5; 34:14; Deut. 4:23-24; 5:8-9 with Jer. 2:1-3:5; Ezek. 16:35-42; 23:25). Indeed, a jealous God’s righteous wrath would one day effect an apostate people’s judgment and exile from the land (cf. Deut. 6:13-15; Josh. 24:19-20; Ps. 79:5). In all of this, however, God’s jealous wrath is also maintained for action on behalf of His own, particularly after they have repented and so been restored to His favor (Isa. 59:17; Ezek. 5:13; 36:6-7; 38:17-23; 39:25-29; Zeph. 3:8-17; Zech. 8:2-3).

Nahum’s employment of the idea of jealousy, then, is in harmony with the familiar scriptural motif of the husband and the wife. This motif is often applied to God’s relation to Israel. Israel had been the object of God’s eternal love. She had been brought into the family of God in the Exodus from Egypt. He had cared for her and nourished her in the testings of the wilderness and had brought her safely into the land of inheritance. Well did God recall her total devotion and the loving warmth and pristine purity of those early wedding days. Living in the land of promise, a thoughtful and happy wife ought to have been what God had intended her to be: holy to the Lord (Jer. 2:2-3). But such scarcely had been the case. Jeremiah 2:4-3:5 recounts the sorry tale of the bride who had become God’s wayward wife.

Jeremiah’s portrayal of the spiritual odyssey of Israel/Judah is in {1.23}harmony with the same theme sung by other prophets. Hosea’s marriage was to picture God’s relation to Israel. It emphasized that Israel’s wanton apostasy would gain her only the loss of her freedom, until God would pay the price for her sin and bring her back to Himself in the latter days (Hos. 1-3).

Isaiah (Isa. 54:4-17) relates that Israel had been forsaken by God because of her wickedness. Nevertheless she was yet God’s wife and, as a repentant nation, would yet be forgiven and regathered in righteousness and so enjoy the everlasting acceptance and protection of her divine husband.

Ezekiel 16 is devoted to the same theme. Jerusalem is likened to a bride (v. 8) who had become a brazen harlot (vv. 15, 43), even outdoing Sodom in her iniquity (vv. 44-52). Because she had broken her marriage oath, she incurred God’s chastisement (vv. 53-59). But God, a forgiving and loyal husband, would yet receive her back and remove her humiliation forever (vv. 60-63).

It is no surprise, then, that the theme of the bride is taken up again by Christ and the apostles, whose Bible was largely still the Old Testament. The relationship now, however, is between Christ and the church (cf. Mark 2:19) and, as such, complements the relationship of God the Father with Israel.

Paul reminds the Ephesians that Christ loved the church as a husband loves his bride. Accordingly He sacrificed Himself for her so that she might be pure and holy and seen in all her God-given beauty (Eph. 5:25-27). Paul rehearses to the Corinthian believers how he (the friend of the bridegroom) had intoduced them (the bride) to Christ (the groom). Although she had been a pure virgin, Paul found that the Corinthian church had been susceptible (like Eve) to the serpent’s bite of false gospels. Thus the Corinthians stood in particular need of his ministry to them lest they stray further (2 Cor. 11:1-4).

The Revelation given through John pictures the joy of heaven at the proclamation of that great wedding supper of the Lamb for His waiting bride: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give honor to him; for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7). Certainly it is true that, although she has been wedded to Christ, the church His bride awaits His coming to take her to His home and to the full joy of that festive occasion. Of that coming of the bridegroom, Christ Himself warns a waiting generation to be ready and watching, longing for His coming (Matt. 25:1-13).

Paul reminds his readers, who make up the waiting bride of Christ, that the church is to have a faithful and productive marriage. For that reason she has been married to her saving husband and has become one spirit with Him, her body having become the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:15-19). As His bride, who both expects His {1.24}imminent return and is mindful of her union with Christ, the church is to keep herself pure (1 John 3:1-3), remembering the wedding price that Christ Himself has paid (1 Cor. 6:20).

The use of the word “wrath” in the last line of the initial couplet is doubtless designed to form an inclusion with v. 6. It also anticipates Ezekiel’s familiar pairing of wrath and jealousy (e.g., Ezek. 16:38; cf. 5:13; 36:6; 38:18-19).

The occurrence here of the set parallel terms אֵל ( áe„l, “El/God”) and בַּעַל ( baàal, “Baal/lord”) in these lines strengthens the suggestion of a deliberately formed chiasmus designed not only to strike a responsive chord in Nahum’s readers but to call attention to the double assertion concerning the Lord’s being an avenger that is sandwiched between them. As a God of holiness and justice, God reserves the right of vengeance to Himself. However the course of history might seem to be unfolding, God observes it all and will ultimately take proper action against all sin (cf. Isa. 34:8; 61:2; 63:4). Such the Lord is about to do in the case of Nineveh/Assyria. The three ideas (jealousy, wrath, vengeance) bound together in these opening lines form the groundwork for all of Nahum’s prophecy. As a jealous God, Yahweh demands the absolute devotion that the only true and sovereign God deserves; in His righteous wrath, Yahweh alone can and will deal justly with all who sin, even as His justice dictates; and as an avenging God, Yahweh will discipline, defend, or deliver according to the demands of His holiness.

The theme is filled out in two further lines (connected asyndetically and constructed as terraced poetry) elaborating on the centerpiece of the previous chiasmus: Yahweh is an avenger* against His foes and a keeper (of wrath) against His enemies. Because Assyria (represented by Nineveh its capital) will be the focus of Nahum’s attention, these words take on a distinctive importance. The previous chiasmus had stressed the fact that Yahweh, a jealous God and Lord of wrath, is an avenger. His vengeance against foes is further underlined here. If, as is well known. God’s jealous wrath has brought vengeance against His own apostate Israel, how much more ought those who are not His own—His foes—to fear?

Thus vengeance* becomes a key to unlocking the door of understanding to Nahum’s prophecy. In reading of God’s vengeance. however, one must not think of the familiar human vindictiveness of spirit so often condemned in the Scriptures (cf. Deut. 32:35; Prov. 25:21-22 with Rom. 12:19-20; Lev. 19:18 with Matt. 19:19). Although God may delegate the operation of vengeance to constituted authority (cf. Num. 31:1; Josh. 10:13; Esther 8:13), it primarily belongs to Him (Deut. 32:35-43; Heb. 10:30-31). Indeed, man is cautioned against a spirit of wrath that can so easily lead to taking vengeance {1.25}(cf. Eph. 4:26-27). Because God is holy, He cannot let sin go unpunished; because only God is perfectly holy and just, as well as allwise, only He can exact the proper punishment (Ps. 94).

The last line of verse 2 is important for understanding the process of God’s vengeance: His judicial wrath is not always immediate. At times He holds in reserve His wrath against His foes until the proper occasion. God’s government, including His judicial processes, is on schedule, even though to an awaiting mankind His timing may seem to lag. This thought anticipates that of the next line, serving notice that the theme of the book is also the theme of the hymn in which it is located (1:2-10).

Additional Notes

1:2קַנּוֹא: Though this adjective appears only here and in Josh. 24:19, קַנָּא occurs five times (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15) and the noun קִנְאָה more than three dozen times, many of which refer to God. Cathcart calls attention to Albright’s contention that the outstanding characteristic of God in the prophets was His jealousy and suggests that the use of אֵל and בַּעַל with קַנּוֹא and חֵמָה may be reflective of Canaanite hymnody, wherein El and Baal often occur in parallelism. But the fact that Nahum’s hymn has similar sentiment to poems ascribed to the Canaanite storm-god could indicate no more than Nahum’s considerable literary skill in utilizing old themes in composing his psalm of praise to Yahweh. Certainly there is no need to see wholesale adoption of a Canaanite composition dedicated to Baal, as some suggest.30 God’s own self-assertion is that He is a jealous God (Ex. 20:4; Deut. 5:8).

Attributing jealousy to the Lord poses no problem, for in OT usage jealousy is but the intolerance of rivalry or unfaithfulness. How one expresses that intolerance determines whether or not it is sin. When applied to the Lord, it usually concerns Israel and carries with it the notions of the marriage or covenant relationship and the Lord’s right to exclusive possession of Israel.31

Nevertheless the double parallelism of קַנּוֹא|| חֵמָה and אֵל|| בַּעַל to frame an intervening repeated couplet indicates a deliberate chiasmus built upon familiar traditional literary motifs, including Canaanite ones. Further, the mention of בַּעַל may have wider connotations. In addition to being the name of the Canaanite storm-god, the {1.26}noun may refer to an owner (Ex. 22:7), master (Isa. 1:3), or ruler (Isa. 16:8). Because Yahweh is redeemed Israel’s owner, master, and husband, His wrath can be either spent against her or extended on her behalf. By the word בַּעַל Nahum could also be reporting that despite the rampant idolatry initiated by King Manasseh, Yahweh (not Baal) is the true Lord of the universe (cf. vv. 3b-5) who will deal in righteous wrath with sin and rebellion. It may also be a veiled attack on Hadad, the Assyrian storm-god.

The introduction of the last two lines of Nah. 1:2 asyndetically makes the contrast with the preceding chiasmus all the more dramatic. In such cases, a crispness and vividness characteristically attends the author’s words. The thought here is that the thrust of God’s vengeance (v. 2a) is immediately to be qualified by seeing that this aspect of His character is aimed at his foes. Even here, however, the emphasis needs to be qualified by the full scriptural teaching concerning God’s vengeance, a doctrine that is often misunderstood. Indeed, a complete analysis of the data makes clear that vengeance is often integral to the biblical teaching on grace, mercy, and judgment (e.g., Ex. 20:3-4; Deut. 5:7-8). As Smick (TWOT 2:599) so aptly points out:

The Bible balances the fury of God’s vengeance against the sinner with greatness of his mercy on those whom he redeems from sin. God’s vengeance must never be viewed apart from his purpose to show mercy. He is not only the God of wrath, but must be the God of wrath in order for his mercy to have meaning.

צַר and אֹיֵב: These are recognized set parallel pairs.32

וְנוֹטֵר has been much discussed. Like the preceding “takes vengeance” (NIV), it is technically a participle; God is “a maintainer (of wrath).” In common with the Syriac ne†t£ar, the root means basically to “keep,” “guard,” “maintain” and hence has the same semantic range as Heb. נָצַר (cf. Old Aramaic נְצַר with classical Aramaic נְטַר) and also שָׁמַר with which it occurs in parallel in Jer. 3:5; Amos 1:11. Because נָטַר appears to bear the meaning “be angry,” “bear a grudge” in several contexts (e.g., Lev. 19:18; Ps. 103:9; Jer. 3:5, 12), a significance seemingly shared on occasion by its parallel שָׁמַר (Jer. 3:5; Amos 1:11), some scholars have suggested that both verbs know a second root signifying “rage,” “be in fury.” M. Held has provided impressive evidence that these postulated roots ( sŒmr II|| nt£r II) are stative verbs, whereas the synonymous pair sŒmr II|| ns£r (guard) are transitive. Thus nt£r I (“guard”) may owe its origin to Aramaic/Syriac נְטַר whereas nt£r {1.27}II may be cognate with the Akkadian nada„ru (“be angry/furious,” “be in rage”).33 But despite the arguments of Held and of such scholars as G. R. Driver34 and Cathcart, the conclusion of Maier—that all of the suggested instances where sŒmr/ nt£r seem to be stative are simply cases of elliptical constructions (i.e., the verbs themselves meaning “maintain/reserve,” with the idea of anger being supplied by the context)—is on the whole the simplest answer to the problem. It does not need to posit a conjectured root that has undergone phonetic change, and it has the advantage of being contextually more sound in that the traditional meaning anticipates the sentiment of the next verse.

B. Development: A Hymn To The Sovereign God (1:2-10)

Having drawn the reader’s attention to a sovereign and just God who deals in judgment with the ungodly (v. 2), Nahum develops this theme in a twofold hymn to Yahweh concerning the character and work of God: (1) although the Lord is long-suffering, He will assuredly judge the guilty with all the force that a sovereign God can muster (1:3-6); and (2) although the Lord is good and tenderly cares for the righteous (particularly in times of affliction), He will destroy those who plot against Him (1:7-10).

Verse 2, at once theme and opening hymnic expression, is doubly indicated in the Outline (see introduction) and in the present discussion (i.e., 1:2-6; 1:7-10). After the statement of the thesis, the hymn is developed around two nonverbal sentences setting forth two aspects of Yahweh’s character: (1) “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power” (v. 3, NIV); (2) “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble” (v. 7, NIV). These two statements serve as headings to units that amplify the thematic sentiment in v. 2. The two sections thus formed are likewise composed in a similar format: (1) descriptive statement(s) followed by conjunctive waw; (2) further development given in controlling introductory forms: prepositional phrase (v. 3b), emphatic accusative (v. 8b); (3) conclusion marked by rhetorical questions (vv. 6a, 9) and figurative reinforcement (vv. 6b, 10).

In composing his hymn, Nahum has drawn upon familiar motifs long used in the worship of Yahweh. His indebtedness to the religious literature utilized in the worship of Yahweh can be seen by comparing the hymn with other ascriptions of praise to the Lord. It is evident, {1.28}for example, that vv. 2-6 are dependent on images and phrases drawn from the epic traditions commemorating the Exodus (a compositional plan also followed by Habakkuk [3:3-15]):





God is a jealous God

Ex. 30:5; Josh. 24:19


God’s long-suffering patience

Ex. 34:6, 7


Theophany in the storm

2 Sam. 22:10; Ps. 68:4 (HB 68:5)


God’s rebuke of the sea and drying it up

2 Sam. 22:16; Ps. 77:16 (HB 77:17); Hab. 3:15; Ex. 14:21-22


Violent shaking of nature

Judg. 5:4-5; 2 Sam. 22:8; Pss. 68:8 (HB 68:9); 77:18 (HB 77:19); 114:6; Hab. 3:6


God’s mighty wrath topples the enemy

Ex. 15:14ff.; Hab. 3:10


Even rocks burnt

Deut. 32:22

Verses 7-10, however, are drawn largely from various standard expressions in mainstream Israelite theology found in various places in the Psalms and particularly in the prophet Isaiah (esp. Isa. 8). As well, Armerding demonstrates that several prominent ideas found in vv. 2-6 are also held in common with Isaiah (in one instance, Nah. 1:4b, the closest parallel is in Isa. 33:9). Though most of these parallels are somewhat general and may indicate nothing more than that both Isaiah and Nahum were familiar with the same traditional material, Armerding has made an interesting point.35

It does seem certain, then, that Nahum’s hymn falls into two portions, as seen not only structurally but in the type of material contained in each of the two poetic sections. The first (vv. 2-6), drawn largely from traditional Exodus themes, underscores God’s wrath against an unbelieving enemy; the second (vv. 7-10) comes from a wider spectrum of praises to God for His defense of His own, while defeating the enemy. Although his familiarity with Isaiah may account somewhat for the selection of some of the material, it was all at his disposal (as is the case also with Habakkuk), and his own unique genius accounts for its presentation in the form of an acrostic (or semiacrostic) hymn.

1. Who Defeats His Foes (1:2-6)
Translation (vv. 3-6)

Yahweh is slow to anger* but great in power

      and will surely not leave (the guilty) unpunished*.

His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,

      and clouds are the dust of His feet.{1.29}

4He rebukes the sea and dries it up,

      and He makes all the rivers run dry.

Bashan and Cannel are withered,

      and the flower of Lebanon fades.

5The mountains tremble because of Him,

      and the hills melt away*;

also the earth quakes before Him,

      yea, the world* and all who dwell in it.

6Before His indignation who can stand?

      And who can endure His fierce anger?

His wrath is poured out like fire,

      and the rocks are shattered by Him.

Exegesis and Exposition

Nahum’s opening thesis—that God as a God of justice will punish the wicked and avenge His own—is developed when the prophet notes that this means God will surely defeat His foes. In so arguing Nahum remarks first of all that the Lord is “slow to anger.” Although he takes righteous vengeance on His foes (v. 2), this does not always mean instant retaliation. Rather, His justice may be “slow” in coming, for He is a God of infinite patience who has an overriding concern for the souls of people (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9-15). Instructive in understanding God’s patience is its appearance in combination with phrases such as “great in lovingkindness” (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13). Far from being simply an omnipotent sovereign who executes justice with rigid disinterest, God is a God of truth and love who, because He longs to bring people into a family relationship, abounds in forbearance toward those who deserve only judgment (cf. Ex. 34:6-7).

The concluding part of the sentence, however, keeps a needed balance in proper perspective: Despite His infinite patience (cf. Joel 2:13), a God of truth and justice (Pss. 9:9 [HB 9:10]; 31:5 [HB 31:6]) will not acquit the guilty but must ultimately confront unrepented sin so that justice triumphs in the punishment of the guilty (Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:17-18; Deut. 28:58-68; Isa. 24:14-24; Jer. 30:11; 46:28; Joel 3:4-8, 19 [HB 4:4-8, 19]). Moreover, God is not only just (Rom. 3:26), but as an omnipotent sovereign He has the inherent strength to effect His justice: He is “great in power,” as the following lines demonstrate (vv. 3b-6).

The description of God that proceeds in amplifying the statement concerning God’s strength contains striking poetic imagery. The tropes found here include metaphor (v. 3b), graphic image (vv. 4-5), rhetorical question (v. 6a), and simile (v. 6b). All are chosen not just for dramatic effect but as the most appropriate form for conveying {1.30}the author’s intended meaning.36 As poetic devices they intensify the emotive response of the reader by presenting carefully designed word pictures. Thus God’s omnipotence and approach are represented by the whirlwind and the storm (v. 3), the earthquake (v. 5), and fire (v. 6). M. Travers’s remarks are to the point: “It is through such tropes as the metaphor, image and simile that Nahum establishes the thorough destructiveness, the utter terror of God’s wrath: who can withstand him?”37

The theophany portrayed in the metaphor of v. 3b is a familiar one in the Old Testament: God is the God of the storm. The figure is often utilized for contexts dealing with judgment (e.g., Isa. 29:6; 66:15; Zech. 9:14). Perhaps in contrast to the impotent pagan stormgods, God had appeared since the time of Israel’s redemption out of Egypt and conquest of Canaan as the mighty controller of the tempest and all the forces of nature (Ex. 15:1-18; 19:16-19; Judg. 5:4-5; 2 Sam. 22:8-16; Pss. 68:7-8 [HB 68:8-9]; 77:17-20 [HB 77:18-21]; 144:5-6; Hab. 3:3-15).38 Therefore Yahweh alone is in control of the natural world as well as of the affairs of mankind (Job 37:1-24; 38:1-42:6; Ps. 104; Acts 17:24-28).

Nahum’s description of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty that follows is in harmony with mainstream Hebrew orthodoxy and is phrased in familiar imagery: God is in the whirlwind* and the storm* (cf. Ps. 83:16; Isa. 29:6); He treads the lofty clouds* under His feet (cf. Ex. 19:16-19; 2 Sam. 22:10; Pss. 68:5 [HB 68:6]; 97:2; 104:3; Isa. 14:14; 19:1; 66:15; Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26; 14:62; 1 Thess. 4:17; Rev. 1:7); He controls the rivers and seas* (cf. Ex. 14:21-22; 15:8; Judg. 5:21; 2 Sam. 22:16; Pss. 66:6; 77:16 [HB 77:17]; 106:9; 114:3-5; Isa. 42:15; 44:27; 50:2; 51:10; Jer. 51:36; Hab. 3:15); He can make desolate* the most luxurious of lands (e.g., Bashan and Carmel;* cf. Isa. 16:8; 19:7; 29:17; 33:9; 42:15; Jer. 4:26; 48:31-33; Mic. 7:13); the mountains* and earth quake and collapse at His presence (cf. Judg. 5:4-5; 2 Sam. 22:8, 16; Job 28:9; Pss. 46:6 [HB 46:7]; 77:18 [HB 77:19]; 114:4-7; Isa. 13:13; 42:15; 64:11; Jer. 4:24; Joel 3:16 [HB 4:16]; Mic. 1:4; Hab. 3:6, 10; Zech. 14:4) so that the world and its inhabitants are helpless before Him—even the most impenetrable of rocks {1.31}lies shattered before His fiery wrath (cf. Deut. 32:22; 1 Kings 19:11; Jer. 23:29; Matt. 27:51).

In all this Nahum gives a graphic picture of the limitless and invincible power of God. Accordingly he can ask whether any could stand in the face of such an almighty One when He executes His wrath.* The answer is “No one, no one at all!” By implication this anticipates the subject of his prophecy: Not even mighty Nineveh, home of the Assyrian world empire, would be able to withstand the sovereign God of all nature. The Creator, controller, and consummator of this world and its history is the same one who will not leave the guilty unpunished.

Additional Notes

1:3אַפַּיִם אֶרֶךְ: This phrase is appropriately translated in LXX in each of the instances cited in the Exegesis and Exposition by the Greek adjective μακροθυμός (“patient”). The corresponding noun, μακροθυμία (“patience”), is often used in the New Testament. Peter in particular applies the term to God who, in the days of Noah, endured a world of spiritual bankruptcy (1 Pet. 3:20). Peter reports that He similarly delays the great day of judgment so as to prolong the day of salvation (2 Pet. 3:15). Because God is patient, believers ought to be also (cf. Matt. 18:21-25). The Christian has a source of aid in being “long-suffering,” for it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Not only the Christian minister (2 Cor. 6:6), who most assuredly must develop this trait (1 Tim. 1:16), but every Christian should be marked by godly patience toward all (1 Thess. 5:14), which allows him to walk worthy of his Christian calling (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12), thus reproducing in his life the same performance of faith as his spiritual predecessors (Heb. 6:11-12).

It is instructive that in several cases μακροθυμία is juxtaposed with such words as χρηστό( τητο) ς (“[loving]kind[ness],” 2 Cor. 6:6; Gal. 5:22) and ἀγάπη (“love”; 2 Tim. 3:10). God is not only patient; God is love (1 John 4:8). It is no surprise, then, that as Christians are charged to love one another (1 John 4:7-12) they are reminded that true Christian love is characterized by both long-suffering (1 Cor. 13:4) and endurance in all things (13:7). Christians, of all people, ought to be patient. Thus Paul rightly charges believers to “put on love, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:14).

† The verb נקה (“be innocent”) is related to Semitic cognates in Akkadian, Arabic, and Aramaic meaning “be clean/pure” (cf. Dan. 7:9). In the piel stem the verb becomes declarative:39 “declare innocent,” {1.32}”acquit” (cf. Job 9:28; Joel 3:21 [HB 4:21]). As such, it is characteristically reserved for the divine prerogative (e.g., Ex. 20:7; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Job 9:28; Jer. 30:11; 46:28; but note 1 Kings 2:9). The employment of יהוה here in enveloping structure calls further attention to this latter fact.

לֹא: Although A. Haldar40 argues for reading an emphatic lamedh here, such scarcely makes good sense contextually. Moreover, the scriptural parallels cited above (note especially Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18) argue strongly for the retention of the MT negative particle. Translating the verb with the addition of an accusative “the guilty” is a natural translation ad sensum. Cathcart (Nahum, p. 45) calls attention to Cross’s reading of a Hebrew inscription from Khirbet Beit Lei:


nqh yh ál h£nn

Absolve (us) O Merciful God!


nqh yh yhwh

Absolve (us) O Yahweh!

Some critical scholars (e.g., J. M. P. Smith) have suggested that v. 3a be treated as a gloss, possibly supplied from Num. 14:17, so as to soften the force of God’s wrath just recorded. Quite the contrary, the scriptural parallels, the flow of the context, and the authorial design in the concatenation of the letter aleph argue for the retention of the line. Further, as Cathcart points out, the essential integrity of vv. 2-3a is supported by the heaping up of the consonants n and q (six times) and the combination of the ideas of strength/wrath and gentleness/mercy found in such extrabiblical literary sources as the Babylonian Ludlul Be„l Ne„meqi, where Marduk is described as one

Whose fury surrounds him like the blast of a tornado,

Yet whose breeze is as pleasant as a morning zephyr;

His anger is irresistible, his rage is a hurricane,

But his heart is merciful, his mind forgiving,

The ... of whose hands the heavens cannot hold back,

But whose gentle hand sustains the moribund.41

All this also speaks against Smith’s suggestion that the MT reading גְּדוֹל־כֹּחַ, found uniquely here as opposed to the more usual חֶסֶד רַב (“abounding in lovingkindness”), if to be retained at all must refer to God’s moral strength, for “the thought probably is that Yahweh’s self-control is too great to permit him to act upon the impulse of sudden outbursts of wrath.”42 The thought perhaps parallels that of Ps. 147:5:{1.33}


Great is our Lord

גָּדוֹל אֲדוֹנֵינוּ


and abundant in strength.


סוּפָה (“whirlwind”) occurs also in Hos. 8:7 in a context of judgment and in parallel with עָנָן (“cloud”) in Jer. 4:13. שְׂעָרָה (“storm”) is a biform of סְעָרָה (“[wind]storm”), both of which are related to Akkadian sŒa„rum (“windstorm”). Both nouns occur together in Isa. 29:6 in a context of judgment. סוּפָה is paired with the masculine noun form סַעַר (“storm”) in Ps. 83:15 (HB 83:16). Yahweh’s power over the storm could be viewed as a veiled denunciation of both the Canaanite Baal (who was often worshiped in poetic lines of similar sentiment and whose worship was even then rampant in Judah) and Haddu/Hadad, the Assyrian storm-god.

The occurrence of these two terms for storm, as well as the image of the God of the clouds shared in common between Isaiah and Nahum, underscores Armerding’s contention that Nahum had a strong literary dependence on Isaiah:

The evidence for literary interdependence between Isaiah and Nahum is thus founded on unique, multiple verbal repetitions linking specific passages (e.g. Nah 1:2 and Isa. 59:17-19; 1:3-6 and 29:6; 1:4 and 33:9; 50:2; 1:4-5 and 42:15; 1:15 and 52:1, 7; 2:9-10 and 24:1, 3; 2:10 and 21:3-4; 3:5-7 and 47:2-3; 3:7 and 51:19). It is reinforced by the extensive continuity of imagery in other related passages (e.g., drought, earthquake, fire, stubble, burial, lions). And it is corroborated to the point of virtual certainty by the shared pattern of oppression, deliverance, and judgment experienced specifically in relation to Assyria (cf. Isa. 5:26-30; 7:17-20; 8:4-8; 9:1; 10:5-34; 11:11, 15-16; 14:24-27; 19:23-25; 20:1-6; 27:13; 30:27-33; 31:1-9; 36:1-37:38; 38:6; 51:17-52:7).43

Armerding suggests that the ubiquity of the interrelationship between Isaiah and Nahum may well provide corroborative evidence of Isaiah’s authorship of all the prophecy that bears his name.

W. G. E. Watson may be correct in suggesting that the use of the two words for storm here is an example of hendiadys. He translates the line “In the tempestuous whirlwind his road.”44

God’s treading upon the clouds is reminiscent of the title “rider on the clouds” (Ps. 68:4 [HB 68:5]). רכב with עַל often means “mount up upon” (cf. Akkadian raka„bu). One may note especially 1 Sam. 25:42; 2 Sam. 19:27; 1 Kings 13:13-14; 18:45; 2 Kings 9:16, where רכב is used of mounting together with an accompanying activity. Such familiar phrases as בָּעֲרָבוֹת רֹכֵב (“rider on the clouds,” Ps. 68:4 [HB 68:5]; cf. Ugaritic rkb àrpt) and הַשָּׁמַיִם רֹכֵב (“he who rides upon the heavens”; cf. Deut. 33:26), as well as קַל עַל־עָב רֹכֵב (“he who rides upon a swift {1.34}cloud,” Isa. 19:1), may all likewise be understood as “he who mounts/is mounted upon the clouds/heavens.” The traditional meaning “ride upon” is, of course, equally possible.45 In this word there may again be a veiled reference to Hadad who appears in Ugaritic texts as “Hadad, lord of the storm clouds” and in the Assyrian recension of the Atrah¬asi„s Epic as the one who “rode on the four winds, (his) asses.”46

1:4a Many find in these parallel lines a further adoption of an original Canaanite setting. The juxtaposition of יָם and יָבַשׁ may compose a merismus made up of polar word pairs. יָם (“sea”) and נָהָר (“river”) are familiar set parallel pairs in both the Ugaritic texts and the OT.47

1:4b The mention of Bashan, Carmel, and Lebanon is reminiscent of a similar context in Isa. 33:9. All three were noted for being places of special fertility. Bashan (south of Mount Hermon on the east side of the Jordan) was fabled for the productivity of its land and therefore its fine cattle (Mic. 7:14); Carmel (the promontory along the Mediterranean Sea in central Canaan south of the Bay of Acre) was prized for its beauty and its fruitfulness (Song of Sol. 7:5; Jer. 50:19); and Lebanon (home of the lofty mountains of coastal Syria) was famed for its great cedars (1 Kings 5:14-18; Isa. 2:13). The conquering Mesopotamian kings frequently boasted of traveling to the forests of Lebanon.48 Cathcart notes that the double parallels Lebanon/Bashan and mountains/hills have a counterpart in Isa. 2:13-14.49

For the relation of the double אֻמְלַל in the reconstruction of the proposed acrostic in vv. 2-10, see the note on v. 2. That the first occurrence of the word was originally written as a similar parallel root, such as דָּלַל or דֻּמְלַל, rests upon not only the needs of the acrostic pattern but also the fact that the ancient versions uniformly used two different words to express the Hebrew word(s) in question.50 In the absence of further evidence in the Hebrew manuscript tradition, however, the case for an unbroken acrostic must remain unproved {1.35}due to the absence of a daleth in v. 4. In fact, Joel’s use of אֻמְלַל in parallel with יָבַשׁ (“be dried up,” Joel 1:10, 12) in his description devastating drought may argue for Nahum’s adaptation of Joel’s language, resulting in a deliberately formed broken acrostic. Such a broken alphabetic acrostic occurs in Pss. 9-10 where ד is likewise missing.

1:5 The figure of the divine shaking of the mountains (cf. Jer. 4:24; Hab. 3:6) is found also in Canaanite texts praising Baal/Hadad.51 הַר/ גִּבְעָה is a common parallel pair in Isaiah (e.g., Isa. 2:2, 14; 10:32; 30:17; 42:18).

† The usual translation of מוּג as “melt” has met with some discussion. Because the other lines in v. 5 contain the picture of shaking/trembling, some have suggested that consistency of image demands a similar sense for מוּג. Thus the NEB reads “heave and swell” and the NJB “reel.” Support for such renderings comes from the ancient versions: LXX ἐσαλεύvθησαν (“are shaken,” “sway”) and Pesh. àe tparaq (“be rent/broken”). Possible etymological support may also be found in Arabic ma„ja (“surge”). This thought is supported further by such poetic parallels as Jer. 4:24; Hab. 3:6; Ps. 18:7 (HB 18:8). Conversely, the more usual translation of מוּג as “melt” is favored by a comparison with Ps. 97:5; Mic. 1:4. The hithpael of מוּג (as here) is read elsewhere only in Ps. 107:26; Amos 9:13. In the former case it could best be understood either as trembling (so AB) or “melted” (NIV). In the latter text, “melting” or “flowing” is clearly appropriate. Accordingly a final decision as to the precise nuance of מוּג here is elusive.

Compounding the problem in understanding the verb מוּג is וַתִּשָּׂא (“and [the earth] quakes”) in the next line. Cathcart suggests reading וַתִּשָּׁא, “and (the earth) is laid waste” (cf. RSV, NEB), from the root שָׁאָה (“roar,” “crash into ruins”), a suggestion that finds support in Pesh. If Cathcart’s proposal is followed, it would make an interesting parallel with the Vg reading in the parallel line: desolati sunt (“are desolate,” “laid waste”). The MT, however, is fully defensible here both contextually and in the light of the intransitive use of נָשָׂא elsewhere (cf. Ps. 89:9 [HB 89:10]; Hos. 13:1; Hab. 1:3) and has the general support of LXX ἀνεστάλη (“was raised up”) and Vg contremuit (“trembles violently”). Thus the various emendations are unnecessary.52

וְתֵבֵל: The last line has also undergone critical examination. Particular attention has been paid to the two conjunctions, the first of which is missing in LXX and Pesh. and the second of which has {1.36}been considered awkward. W. F. Albright proposes the deletion of the second waw so that the line reads watte‚bal (from אָבַל, “mourn”) בָה יוֹשְׁבֵי כָּל, “and all its inhabitants drooped” (cf. Amos 8:8; 9:5). W. L. Moran takes the second waw with תֵּבֵל, viewing the resultant reconstruction as a remnant of an ancient taqtulu„(na) form and reading te‚ba„lu‚ “(all its inhabitants) mourned.”53 Ingenious as these suggestions are, there is no reason to reject the MT. תֵּבֵל is a common set synonym with אֶרֶץ (“earth”), which is found in the parallel line (cf. 1 Sam. 2:8; Isa. 18:3; 24:4; 26:9, 18; 34:1). Further, as Maier points out, the double occurrence of waw in the disputed line is probably intentional, yielding “not only the earth but all who dwell in it.”

1:6 זַעְמוֹ: Those who see a rigid acrostic in vv. 2-10 usually transpose זַעְמוֹ to the first slot in a sentence, thus forming a case of anticipatory emphasis. Although such a procedure may preserve the desired alphabetical sequence, such may not be necessary to Nahum’s poetic scheme, as noted previously. The order of the MT is reminiscent of Ps. 147:17 and may be intentionally formed so as to emphasize the juxtaposed verbal phrases that follow, while leaving wrath as a frame for the double rhetorical question that it encloses ( אַפּוֹ בַּתֲרוֹן . . . זַעְמוֹ).If so, the utter hopelessness of Nineveh’s situation is stressed. The use of זַעַם with אַף חֲרוֹן is attested also in Pss. 69:24 (Heb. 69:25); 78:49; Zeph. 3:8.

The use of rhetorical question in a hymn of praise is common enough (cf. Ps. 113:5). עָמַד and קוּם may find a parallel use as a set pair in Job 8:15.

1:6b The figure of wrath is continued in the first of the couplets that makes up v. 6b. It is a wrath that burns so intensely that even usually impenetrable rocks are broken up before it (cf. Deut. 32:22; 1 Kings 19:11; Jer. 4:26; 23:29; 51:26; Mic. 1:4). Cathcart calls attention to the combination of נָתַךְ and חֵמָה in contexts of divine judgment elsewhere in the OT and notes the use of נָתַךְ in the pouring out of Hadad’s wrath in the Panammu„ I inscription. The employment of נָתַץ in the parallel line leaves a picture of a wrath so great that it is like an intense fire that shatters solid rock. God’s judgment melts all opposition before it.

2. Who Destroys The Plotters (1:7-10)

Good (better) is Yahweh as (than) a fortress

      in the day of distress,{1.37}

and He knows* those who seek refuge in Him

      in the overwhelming flood*.

8He makes a(n) (complete) end of those who rise up against Him*

      and pursues His foes into darkness*.

9What(ever) (will) you plot against Yahweh(?)

He will make an end* (of it);

      trouble* will not arise a second time.

10Indeed, they shall be as (totally) consumed

      as a completely entangled thorn bush,

(or) as those utterly satiated with their drink,

(or) as fully dry stubble.

Exegesis and Exposition

Nahum begins the latter portion of his hymn with the second of his statements regarding God’s nature. He points out that God’s goodness and concern for His own do not diminish His power and determination to judge the wicked (cf. Ps. 145:7-9). Rather than being a weakening quality, God’s goodness assures all people that He will execute His judgment equitably (cf. Pss. 98:9; 145:17-20).

Verse 7 stresses the positive aspect. Like those within a fortress on the day of siege, so those who trust* in God’s goodness and loving concern for them may rest secure. The verse provides a dramatic contrast with v. 6 in that Nahum moves from the subject of wrath to that of compassion. God is compared metaphorically to a refuge (cf. Ps. 37:37-40), and the effect is to make Israel a literary foil to Nineveh. Thus, in the midst of a context emphasizing vast destruction, a picture that will quickly be applied to Nineveh, the scene takes a momentary shift to assure God’s people of His goodness and protection. The practical result will be to place in stark contrast Israel’s blessedness and Nineveh’s defenselessness before God’s all-consuming wrath (cf. Ex. 15:7; Isa. 5:21-25; 33:11-12).

Having painted such a poignant portrait, Nahum returns to the subject of the destruction of God’s foes (vv. 8-10). God, in His judicial wrath, will come against them like a victorious commander pursuing his foes to the farthest recesses of the earth. Indeed, God’s enemies will come to understand that He will overturn their insolent plotting against Him so thoroughly that, like men entangled in thorns or overcome with their own drunkenness, they will be easily overthrown. As dry stubble is devoured by fire, God’s fiery wrath will consume them. They will not devise their devious plot a second time.

The contrast between the fortunes of believers and the wicked is often drawn in the Scriptures (e.g., Psalms 1; 37; Prov. 4:10-19; Matt. 7:13-14, 24-27). He who trusts in God is the one who knows and believes in Him (cf. Gen. 15:6) and hence has the assurance (Isa. 26:3) {1.38}that God will take note of him in the adversities of life (Pss. 17:7; 18:30 [HB 18:31]; 31:19-20 [HB 31:20-21]), when life’s circumstances rush in upon him like an overwhelming flood (Pss. 18:1-6 [HB 18:2-7]; 32:6-7; 124). Indeed, to all such believers God’s goodness reaches out, and He becomes their fortress in distress (Ex. 152; Pss. 27:1-3; 28:8; 91:2; Isa. 25:4; Jer. 16:19). Conversely, those who trust in self, who rise up against God, will find that He will in turn stand against them. Those who plot against Him (Pss. 1:1; 2:1-3; 21:11 [HB. 21:12]), among whom Assyria was often named (e.g., Ps. 83:5-8 [HB 83:6-9]), can be assured that their plot not only will not succeed (cf. Pss. 1:4-5; 2:12; Hos. 7:15-16), but it will also self-destruct, leaving them in danger of certain judgment.

The figures that Nahum has chosen to use in these verses are particularly apropos. Because proud Nineveh plotted against God (cf. v. 11) instead of trusting in Him, she would know no safety in the overwhelming floods of life that were to come. Both tradition and archaeological excavations record that Nineveh’s fall was enhanced physically by the weakening effect of floodwaters. Likewise, historical traditions recount that on the night of the city’s capture its defenders, convinced of Nineveh’s impregnability, were engaged in eating and drinking. Thus Diodorus (Bibliotheca historica 2.26.4) reports:

It happened at this very time that the king of the Assyrians ... turned to indulgence and divided among his soldiers for a feast animals and great quantities of both wine and all other provisions. Consequently, since the whole army was carousing, Arbaces, learning from some deserters of the relaxation and drunkenness in the camp of the enemy, made his attack upon it unexpectedly in the night.

The reference to fire not only echoes the concluding lines of the first portion of the hymn (v. 6) and adds dramatic pathos to the divine sentence of judgment in this section but is also distinctly appropriate. The ruins of Nineveh show abundant evidence of the intensity of the conflagration that consumed the fallen city. Whatever application these verses have to God’s enemies in general, it is obvious that Nahum’s prophetic pronouncements have a particular relevance for Nineveh.

Additional Notes

1:7 A contrast in subject matter (wrath in v. 6 vs. goodness in v. 7) and syntactic structure (note the employment of an intentional asyndeton to introduce v. 7) indicate the initiation of a new portion in the hymn.

לְמָעוֹז יהוה טוֹב has been variously rendered. לְמָעוֹז is commonly taken as apposition and placed in a separate line:{1.39}

The Lord is good,

      a refuge.... (NIV)

The Lord is good,

      a stronghold.... (KJV, NASB, NKJV, RSV).

Leaving לְמָעוֹז in the first line makes the second line short. Some alleviate the situation by inserting into the line such phrases as “for those who trust in him” (Brockington). BHS solves the problem by rearranging the words in the verse and augmenting it to read: “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, a fortress in the day of distress.” NJB takes the lamedh as a comparative particle and translates the line “Yahweh is better than a fortress,” thus leaving the phrase in question with the first poetic line. Cathcart at first translated the words similarly, calling attention to Song of Sol. 1:2b-3a as support.54 On the whole, the retention of לְמָעוֹז with the first line would seem to make both good sense and better literary style, whether or not one takes the lamedh to be a comparative particle. Thus construed, the resultant two lines give a good balance with the following couplet, yield good sense, and furnish additional evidence for an acrostic in vv. 2-10. The end result is reflected in my translation above. NJB, while translating differently, follows the same poetic arrangement:

Yahweh is better than a fortress

in time of distress;

he recognises those who trust in him

even when the flood rushes on.

וּבְשֶׁטֶף: The waw is an example of explicative waw.55

זְיֹדֵעַ: Several suggest an expanded use of ידע here, such as “care for” (NIV, NEB) or “recognize” (NJB). Because this verb has a wide semantic range when used of divine knowledge, however, it is perhaps better to translate “and He knows” and leave the precise nuance to the expositor.56

As for חָסָה (“trust”), though Girdlestone reports that, of the many synonyms employed to render the idea of trust, this verb is used when the concept of God as a refuge is intended or where God is compared to a rock or shield, Gamberoni suggests that extensive use of the word has developed a strong concept of the believer’s absolute and exclusive trust in Yahweh.57 Thus, for those who put their total trust in the Lord and in him alone, God is a strong fortress. Such a person can stand the test even in the day of adversity, when the troubles of life come rushing in like an overwhelming flood. Isaiah (Isa. 25:4) employs similar language to praise God for His power in the stresses of life: “For You have been a refuge/fortress [ מָעוֹז] for the poor, a refuge/fortress [ מָעוֹז] for the needy in his distress, a refuge/shelter [ מַחְסֶה] from the storm, and a shade from the heat.”

1:8מְקוֹמָהּ: The MT “her place” has been taken to refer to Nineveh (1:1). However, the LXX τοὺς ἐπεγειρομένους, “those who rise up” (against Him; cf. NJB, “those who defy him”), suggests a different reading, perhaps מְקִימֵיהוּ. Cathcart proposes miqqo‚me‚hu‚ “of his assailants.” Either reading would make a more suitable parallel with אֹיְבָיו than the pointing of the MT. Similar in sentiment are the instances of the use of the qal participle of קוּם in parallel with אֹיֵב (“enemy”; e.g., Ps. 18:39-40 [HB 18:40-41]) and the cases where the two are utilized in close proximity (cf. Deut. 28:7; Ps. 18:48 [HB 18:49]; Mic. 7:6). Note also Ps. 59:2 where the hithpael participle of קוֹם stands in parallel with אֹיֵב. The MT reading “her place” has its able defenders, however (e.g., Keil, Maier).

The phrase “and pursues his foes into darkness” has occasioned some controversy due to the lack of a clear precedent for the use of רָדַף with a double accusative. The translation suggested here (cf. NIV) nevertheless makes good contextual sense, especially in view of the parallel with the thought of God’s making a complete end of His enemies. “Darkness” can be construed either as the land of death (the final end of the wicked), a thought found in such texts as Job 10:20-22; 17:13; 18:18; Ps. 35:6, 8, 10-12 (HB 35:7, 9, 11-13), or simply as an idiom for God’s relentless pursuit that brings punishment in a final extermination of His foes (Isa. 8:22; Zeph. 1:15). In the light of v. 9 the latter suggestion is perhaps better. Maier’s “with darkness” appears forced.

1:9מַה־תְּחַשְּׁבוּן has been taken either as a rhetorical question, “Why/what will you plot against Yahweh?”—a question directed at the heathen (= Nineveh) or at Judah—or as an indirect question, “Whatever you plot against Yahweh” (cf. NIV, NASB). In light of the following verse, it is perhaps better to adopt the latter alternative. The verbal form could also be viewed as a piel imperfect 3d masc. pl. archaistically constructed (or retained) in poetic fashion in conformity to a Northwest Semitic teŒqat£t£eŒlu‚(na) form, “(whatever) they will plot.” In any case, whether the clause is viewed as a direct or indirect question, it answers schematically to a similar development in the first section of the hymn (cf. v. 6).

†With כָּלָה “(make) an end (of),” cf. Ugaritic kly, “finish off,” “destroy”; Akkadian kalu‚.

צָרָה (“trouble/opposition”) has been emended by some (e.g., BHS) to read צָרָיו (“his enemies/adversaries”; e.g., NJB, NEB) on the basis of its frequent association with קוּם (cf. Pss. 3:1 [HB 3:2]; 44:5 [HB 44:6]; 74:23). But no manuscript evidence exists for such an emendation, and the MT makes good sense as it stands. The use of קוּם here in conjunction with the previous עֹשֶׂה ... כָּלָה argues strongly for the reading of a verbal form in v. 8 ( קוּם) rather than the noun מָקוֹם (“place”). The thought reemphasizes that of v. 9a: God’s just judgment will bring a total end to the opposition of His foes. There will be no second rebellion.58

1:10 †Verse 10 is an often debated crux interpretum. Cathcart affirms: “This must be one of the most difficult texts in the Old Testament. No satisfactory translation of the passage has been offered to date.”59 Each line of the verse, as well as the sense of the whole, has been subjected to critical scrutiny. The first two images have been particularly troublesome: (1) סְכֻכִים סִירִים (“entangled thorns”) has met with such despair of solution that many (e.g., Ehrlich, J. M. P. Smith) have dubbed it hopelessly corrupt. Various textual emendations and rearrangements have been attempted, none of which appears to be an improvement upon the basic figure given in the MT. (2) סְבוּאִים וּכְסָבְאָם (“and like those drunken from their drink”) is usually translated so as to yield a rendition that emphasizes becoming totally drunk. Although numerous conjectures have been put forward, none has proved to be entirely satisfactory.60

Not only must the difficulty of establishing the precise meanings of the words involved in the two figures be solved, but once the meanings are established the resultant figures must be related to the third image of the verse: “like fully dry stubble.” Some common ground of comparison must be found if one is to make good sense of the three parallel lines in the verse. Although certainty regarding the verse’s flow of thought is problematic, it is simplest to follow the MT and find the clue to the solution of the total picture in the introductory double particle עַד כִּי (lit. “for unto”; cf. LXX). Unfortunately these words have proved to defy smooth interpretation, causing them to be variously rendered, emended, or even left untranslated. Three syntactic factors must be kept in mind: (1) עַד usually carries with it the recognition of the farthest point to which the action/thought has come and often occurs in contexts demanding a note of emphasis (e.g., Ex. 9:7; 14:28; Judg. 4:16; 2 Sam. 17:22; Job 25:5; Ps. 147:15; Hag. 2:19).61 (2) כִּי is often used in poetic structures to emphasize the preceding material, while signaling the conclusion of the whole thought, or to bring the poem/hymn to a close.62 (3) Verse 10 must be contextually related in meaningful fashion to v. 9 but not to v. 11. (See the introductory remarks to vv. 11-15.) Taking account of these data and following the MT (although ignoring the placement of the athnah£), the translation given at the beginning of this unit emerges.

The point of the comparison in all three seemingly unrelated cases is that of total consumption: the bush by its thorns, the drunkard by his drink, the stubble by fire. The effect is heightened by the use of the prophetic perfect of אָכַל (significantly in the pual stem, unless this is a qal passive63) and the piling up of the s sound (6 times) in this otherwise k verse. Doubtless each of the lines belongs to the proverbial literature, and the three are brought together by Nahum as a fitting conclusion to the hymn proper in such a way as to reemphasize the impossibility of God’s enemies ever rising up again after He has judged them. The verse and the whole hymn look forward to God’s judgment of Nineveh. He will make a complete end of the proud city.

C. Application: God’s Justice For Nineveh And Judah
(1:11-15 [HB 1:11-2:1])

With the completion of the hymn, Nahum turns to the two nations and their capitals that are the subject of his prophecies. The latter half of his hymn had been directed against those who plot against God. Keying in on that term, Nahum turns to the supreme example of such activity: Assyria and its capital city of Nineveh. In four short verses Nahum brings God’s charges against Nineveh for which it will be judged (v. 11) regardless of its seemingly limitless strength (vv. 12a, 14), a judgment that will result in a respite for Judah in its affliction (vv. 12b-13). The section is closed with a stirring message of good news: Because wicked Nineveh has been judged, a repentant Judah may once again worship God in peace (v. 15).

From a literary perspective this narrative unit is characterized by such features as the stitch-word “one who plots” (v. 11; cf. v. 9), a monocolon (v. 12), and a concluding refrain (v. 15). That these verses compose a single literary unit is guaranteed not only by the presence of an initial stitch-word and closing refrain but also by the employment of the enveloping/bookending word בְּלִיַּעַל ( beŒliyyaàal, “wicked[ness]”) in verses 11, 15. This short section is thus distinct from the previous hymn in 1:2-10 and from the announcement in 2:1 ff. Schematically it forms the application of Nahum’s stated theme (v. 2) and hymn of praise (vv. 2-10).


From you has come forth one who plots evil against Yahweh, a

      counselor of wickedness*.

12Thus says Yahweh*,

“Even though they have allies* and are very numerous, so much

      the more will they be cut off* and pass away. Although I have

      afflicted you, I will not afflict you again.

13But now I will break his yoke from upon you, and I will tear

      your shackles away.”

14Yahweh has issued a command concerning you*: “None of your

      name will be sown again;

I will cut off the (carved) images and (molten) idols, and I will

      make* your grave, for you are vile*.”

15Behold*, on the mountains the feet of one who brings glad

      tidings, who proclaims peace!

Celebrate your festivals, O Judah, fulfill your vows! For the wicked

      one shall never again pass through you; he is completely cut off.

Exegesis and Exposition

In a dramatic structural shift from hymnic to narrative style, Nahum turns to Nineveh in application of the teaching of his hymn. Nineveh/Assyria is identified as a plotter*, an identification that seems obvious in the light of the military exploits of its most prominent kings. The primary reference may well be to Sennacherib, who launched his infamous third campaign against the western countries of the Fertile Crescent in general and Judah in particular. According to his own records, having subdued the northern lands, he took Eltekeh, Timnah, and Ekron on the Philistine coast and some 46 cities of Judah. Although he failed to subdue Jerusalem, the booty that he carried away from the campaigning was enormous. The scriptural record likewise indicates that the Judahite king paid a huge tribute to Sennacherib and that the Assyrian king spent considerable time in taking the key towns of Lachish and Libnah in the western Shephelah (2 Kings 18:13-19:8). The writer of Kings also records something of Sennacherib’s own secret plottings against the Lord at that time (2 Kings 19:21-28). Because of the viciousness of the plotter’s thoughts, he is aptly termed “one who counsels wickedness.” The word translated in v. 11 as “wickedness” (NIV) is בְּלִיַּעַל ( be†liyyaàal) and is often translated “worthlessness.” It speaks of a character of life so totally reprobate that the term came ultimately to be applied to Satan himself (2 Cor. 6:15). Whether or not directly applicable to Sennacherib, Nahum’s words would doubtless be welcomed by God’s people, many of whom had been alive during Sennacherib’s campaigns and in whose memories the horror of those earlier days was etched indelibly.

The initial phase of Nahum’s messages against Nineveh follows in vv. 12-14. As the opening monocolon declares, Nahum’s words were nothing less than a solemn pronouncement from the Lord. However flawless and numerous Nineveh’s armies might be, it was also true that God could cut them off so that the Assyrian forces would melt away. It had happened previously (2 Kings 19:32-36). Such a fact could serve as a guarantee that the Assyrian menace would never again bring affliction* to God’s people. Indeed, the Lord had a personal word for each of the parties involved. For Judah there was reassurance that its Assyrian vassalage* would soon pass away, a condition that became a virtual reality during the latter days of Josiah’s reign. In contrasting Judah’s previous and future situations, Nahum compares Judah’s unjust treatment to a yoke and shackles, all of which shall be broken (v. 13). For Nineveh there was the solemn affirmation that her long night of cruel domination was soon to end. This vile and ruthless nation would shortly pass from the scene of earth’s history and leave it without any to carry on its political identity.

The gravity of the sentence against Nineveh/Assyria is underscored by Nahum’s use of a different figure, that of sowing. The pronouncement that Nineveh would lack descendants to bear her name* reads literally in the MT “There shall not be sown (any) of your name again/anymore.” As a farmer sows his seed in anticipation of harvest, so a man’s posterity is viewed as his seed (e.g., Gen. 13:16). The metaphor is common in the Old Testament.64 Stress is laid here on the impossibility of Nineveh’s recovery. Never again will it know its former fame, for it will have neither status nor descendant to perpetuate its name.

Along with the idea of sowing, Nahum’s use of the word “name”* is particularly appropriate. Whereas the term often carries with it the nuances of “character” and “reputation” it also connotes “existence”. In this case, to “cut of the name” was to destroy a person or leave him without descendant (cf. 1 Sam. 24:21; Job 18:17; Isa. 14:22). Conversely a man continued to exist in his posterity, for it was his name and seed (Isa. 66:22; cf. Jer. 13:11). Alas, Nineveh/Assyria would never again have its name sown!

The pathos of Assyria’s demise is further deepened by the notice that none of her vaunted gods, so long venerated in Mesopotamia, would be able to deliver her from God’s sentence of death. Rather, their limitations are clearly spelled out. These “gods” are what they appear to be—mere temple “images”* and “idols”* that could never be of help (cf. Isa. 44:9-20) to a doomed Nineveh. Worse still, those same gods will be cut off, doubtless as an indication of the usual custom in the ancient world whereby the victor desecrated the temples of the conquered foe and carried off the idols. The Assyrians themselves were past masters of such activities. Now it was their turn to suffer such indignities. Maier reports concerning the time-honored temples of Nineveh:

Some sections of the Nabu temple were so completely overturned that competent investigators decided further exploration of these sites would not pay. Slabs written by Ashurbanipal have been found at Nineveh in both temples, Ê-mash-mash and Ê-zida. On one with official repetition the king asks Ishtar (and Nabu on the other) “For all time, O Ishtar, look upon it (the temple) with favor.” The utter devastation of this sanctuary only fourteen years after Ashurbanipal’s death proved Ishtar’s impotence.65

Armerding adds, “The statue of Ishtar was discovered, prostrate and headless, amid the ruins of her temple, which had stood at Nineveh for almost fifteen centuries.”66

The divine sentence ends with a dreadful dictum. So hopeless was Nineveh’s case and so devastating would be her demise that she would not even have a memorial left to her greatness (cf. Ps. 49:16-17 [HB 49:17-18]), nor would anyone erect a monument to her memory. So poor and wretched will she be that only the God who planned her doom will be there to mark out her lowly grave in the ruins of the once proud city. Further reason for the necessity of the divine interment is given in the observation that none will want to preserve Nineveh’s remembrance, for she is utterly reprobate. Because of her debased activity she has gained such contempt for herself that her demise will bring to the lips of the observers of her fall a sigh of relief and a song of rejoicing (v. 15; cf. 3:19).

With the pronouncement of the irreversible decision of divine judgment, once again there is a word for Judah. Again there is a change of figure—from that of bondage (v. 13) to that of a herald. It is a message of good news.* A messenger comes (from Nineveh?) bearing the glad tidings of peace, not only relief from warfare but also restoration of prosperity. Once again conditions will be favorable for the resumption of Judah’s sacrifices and feasts.* So, too, the many promises made to God, doubtless made mostly during the dark days of the Assyrian presence, could be carried out. Likewise, thanksgiving could be rendered to God, for the wicked Assyrian invader has been destroyed, never again to be a threat to God’s people.

Nahum’s prophecy is a near historical realization of Isaiah’s prophecy relative to the eschatological scene. Isaiah foresees the day when an oppressed Israel shall be freed at last from oppressors and invaders, and its people shall not only hear the message of the Lord’s salvation but also experience the everlasting serenity that comes with His presence in royal power in their midst (Isa. 52:1-10; cf. Joel 3:18-20 [HB 4:18-21]). Jerusalem shall be holy (cf. Jer. 33:16) and in turn bear the good news of the tender care of her saving shepherd to the other cities of Judah (Isa. 40:94-11). Under the direction of the Messiah (Isa. 52:13-53:12) Zion will be rebuilt and her enemies subdued, and she shall live in everlasting felicity with her God (Isa. 61:1-7).

The emphasis of Isaiah and Nahum on God’s good news becomes an important motif for the New Testament revelation. Jesus’ birth was thus announced as an occasion of glad tidings (Luke 2:10), and Christ announced that His ministry was in initial fulfillment of the message of salvation and joy that Isaiah prophesied (cf. Luke 4:16-21 with Isa. 61:1-2). Peter makes clear to Jew and Gentile alike that Christ has effected their full salvation, with the result that God’s full peace can be enjoyed by all (Acts 10:34-43), a message of good news that Paul likewise affirms (Eph. 2:14-18). It is no wonder, then, that Paul later builds on the theme of the message of good news and peace that Christ has provided both as scriptural evidence for the Jew and as a challenge to all believers to bear the gospel to a needy mankind (Rom. 10:9-15; cf. Isa. 52:7; Nah. 1:15 [HB 2:1]).

Nahum’s prophecy, together with that of Isaiah 52:7, is thus related not only to Paul’s missionary challenge but also to the theme of the good news of Christ’s saving work. But in contrast to Isaiah, who uses the motif of good news to depict those eschatological events so important to the purposes of God, which begin with Christ’s first advent and are exhausted only in His second, Nahum employs the theme to depict events in the near historical scene. In a sense, Nahum’s prophecy of the joyous news of the impending demise of Assyria/Nineveh and of Judah’s subsequent peace stands as a harbinger of the defeat of the “Assyrians” and of the great promises of God that shall be realized by the Zion of the eschatological era. Because of the saving work of Israel’s Messiah and the earth’s Lord Jesus Christ, all can rejoice in the essence of Nahum’s great prophecy. P. C. Craigie puts it well:

Thus, although Nahum spoke of Nineveh’s defeat before the event had happened, his faith here outstrips the contemporary realities of his time. A messenger would indeed come one day soon, and his message would be one of peace.

Nahum ... here anticipates the Gospel.... The message is one of peace, a peace from external oppression and a new kind of peace with the God who is the giver of all life.67

May the saints of all ages take up Nahum’s challenge to those of his day to maintain their spiritual commitment!

Additional Notes

1:11 The participle חשֵׁב (“plotter”) is the literary hook between this section and the preceding hymn (cf. תְּחַשְּׁבוּן, v. 9). As in the case with narrative structure, where the existing conditions under which the account proceeds are given with a suffix-conjugation verb, so here the Lord’s charges against Nineveh are rehearsed with the facts being introduced by the phrase יָצָא מִמֵּךְ, after which the divine pronouncement is made.68 The employment of this phrase represents a clear structural break with the preceding hymn. There is also a thematic shift from a hymn of general application to the specific case of Nineveh.

†The term בְּלִיַּעַל יֹעֵץ (“one who counsels wickedness”) stands in stark contrast to the coming Messiah, who will be a יוֹעֵץ פֶּלֶא (“wonder of a counselor,” Isa. 9:6 [HB 9:5]). The word בְּלִיַּעַל emphasizes the worthlessness of the counsel that is given. Although the etymology of the word is uncertain, causing בְּלִיַּעַל to receive varying and even contradictory translations, the term has unsavory associations in the OT. It is used of utter reprobates (Judg. 19:22; 1 Sam. 10:27), serving as an appropriate designation for Jezebel’s two false witnesses against Naboth (1 Kings 21:10).

1:12 †While a prophet’s words are often introduced by some such phrase as “thus says the LORD,” this phrase occurs only here in Nahum.69 The singular use of so common a formula argues for a certain deliberate emphasis, perhaps expressing Nahum’s sense of the awesomeness of the Lord’s pronouncement that he was about to deliver.

†The divine sentence is expressed in the form of a condition whose protasis is formed with the particle אִס and a participle. Such constructions usually have a present or immediate future time reference and express a real contingency or possibility.70 Therefore, the likelihood of a strong and sizeable military force at the disposal of the Assyrians is in view. That army is described as being רַבִּים וְכֵן שְׁלֵמִים, a difficult phrase that has been variously translated and emended. The problem centers in the first word, which can bear such nuances as “health,” “completeness,” “safety,” “prosperity.” Cathcart, citing a Ugaritic text where sŒlm occurs in parallel with àzz (“strengthen”), proposes the translation “be strong” here.71 The NIV translation “allies” depends on a study by D. J. Wiseman72 and is perhaps the best solution to the time-honored crux. Together with the following רַבִּים וְכֵן (Ex. 1:12), it suggests the thought “even though they will have allies and so be all the more numerous.”73 Thus construed, the following apodosis becomes an argument a fortiori: “so much the more will they be cut off and their armies pass away.”

נָגֹזּוּ is usually understood as coming from the root גָּזַז, which is customarily employed for the shearing of sheep or the cutting of human hair. The unpointed form, however, could also be explained as coming from גָּזָה (“cut/cut off”) or גּוּז (“pass over/away”), either of which would yield a suitable sense here. The concluding עבר may be a collective perf. sing. (so Keil) or be repointed as an infinitive absolute or 3d masc. pl. perf. (so Cathcart). The MT is perfectly understandable as it stands and may indicate a change in emphasis from the cutting off of the individual soldiers/units to the resultant demise of the entire army.

The following line forms a second portion of the divine decree (hence the waw) and is a suppressed condition formed by deletion of the particle. The protasis is constructed with a perfect to express a condition assumed to be true: “If it is true that I have afflicted you (i.e., Judah), I will afflict you no longer.” The NIV not inappropriately translates the two conditional sentences in v. 12 as introductory concessive clauses. Certainly a clear contrast is envisioned in each case. However many the enemy might number, they will be reduced to zero; however much God might have used the Assyrians to chastise His people, such would no longer be the case. For עָנָה (“afflict”) in contexts of God’s judicial punishment of His people, see Deut. 8:2-3; Pss. 90:15; 119:75. Joel reports that the Assyrians would be used as instruments of God’s chastisement if no repentance was forthcoming in Judah and Jerusalem (Joel 2:1-27). Habakkuk (Hab. 1:5-11) similarly warns of God’s use of the Chaldeans. Armerding sees a reflection of Isa. 51:22-52:1 in the changed circumstances given here and in the following verses.

1:13 וְעַתָּה (“and/but now”) is used in cases of rhetorical analysis to introduce the next point in consequence. Not only will conditions between Assyria and Judah be reversed; God’s people will also be set free of Assyrian vassalage. “Yoke” and “shackles” (or “bonds”) are common terms to depict the fate of those held in vassalage by treaty arrangement with their overlord (cf. Jer. 27:1-10). Although מוֹט refers properly to the “bar” of the yoke, Nahum is using the word synecdochically (the bar for the whole yoke). The yoke itself is often a figure of servitude or vassalage (cf. Lev. 26:13; Isa. 14:25; Jer. 28:10-12; Ezek. 30:18). Similar language abounds in the secular literature of the period. Thus Nabopolassar boasts: “As for the Assyrians who since distant days had ruled over all the people and with heavy yoke had brought misery to the people of the land, from the land of Akkad I banished their feet and cast off their yoke.”74 The Lord’s promise of freedom from chains for those who follow Him stands in bold contrast with the complaint of those who would refuse His rightful sovereignty over them (Ps. 2:1-2).

1:14 †Just as the divine decree concerning Judah’s changed status had been specially introduced with Yahweh’s name (v. 12), so also here. What follows is a clear command from Yahweh for Nineveh. The variation in addressee is accomplished via a contrast in subject matter and a change in the gender of the persons addressed. Although the promise to Judah was constructed with a 2d fem. sing. objective suffix, a 2d masc. sing. suffix is employed here, probably either in reference to Nineveh’s king or in personification of Assyria or Nineveh. The shift in gender as well as in tone (from promise to threat) indicates a shift in referent.

The loss of name and seed would mean total annihilation for Nineveh. Armerding rightly remarks:

The “name” of a population represented its living identity, perpetuated in its “descendants”; to be destitute of descendants therefore represented obliteration of identity and of life itself (cf. Deut 7:24; 9:14; 1 Sam 24:21; et al.). The root underlying “descendants” (zr’, “seed,” “sow”) is used of physical and particularly dynastic succession. It implies the eradication of Nineveh’s dynastic rule, therefore, and of the nation whose cohesion derived from the Neo-Assyrian monarchy now centered at Nineveh; a similar sentence is passed on Babylon and its king in Isaiah 14:4, 20-23.75

The term “name” also has important connotations for the understanding of God, for it calls attention to His revealed character and reputation. It eventually became a technical term for God (cf. Dan. 9:18-19; Amos 2:7; 9:12) and hence was applied by the writers of the NT and the early church Fathers to Christ (e.g., Acts 4:12; 5:41; 3 John 7; Ign. Eph. 3:1; 7:1; Phil. 10:1; 2 Clem. 13:1, 4; and often in Hermas).76 It is still used to this day and may be frequently heard in the Hebrew equivalent of the phrase “God willing” ( áim yirs£eh hasŒsŒe„m, “If the Name is willing”).

The מ with מִשִּׁמְךָ (“of/from your name”) can be viewed either as a partitive use of the preposition or as an enclitic mem after the preceding verb.77 The critical emendations of this line usually drop m and read יִזָּכֵר instead of יִזָּרַע, thus changing the image from sowing to remembering.78 J. M. P. Smith calls this conjectured emendation “gratuitous” but goes on to restructure the section so as to bring vv. 11 and 14 together with 2:2 and 2:4-14 as part of a series of five strophes pointing to the destruction of Nineveh.

פֶּסֶל and מַסֵּכָה are usually taken to refer to carved and molten images respectively. As such, they constitute two of several words for idols and images in the OT.79 But the usual definitions do not always apply, and we cannot be certain concerning the original significance of the two terms.

†For אָשִׂים (“I will make/set”) Cathcart prefers the root שָׁמַם (“to devastate”), relating the thought here to the widespread ancient fear of tomb desecration. The contextual stress, however, appears to focus on God’s personal preparation of Nineveh’s grave rather than on Nineveh’s dread of the destruction of her grave. Although J. M. P. Smith declares that the thought “make your grave” is not “used elsewhere as the equivalent of ‘put to death’ or ‘bury thee,’“ Maier appears to be correct in asserting that “these passages with a markedly similar point of view should be noted: Isa. 53:9; Ezek. 39:11.”80 The MT, then, should be retained.

קַלּוֹתָ כִּי: The charge “for you are vile” represents a moral extension of the meaning of the root קָלַל (“be light”). It is used of a person’s slighted reputation (2 Sam. 6:22) and also of actively treating someone contemptuously (2 Sam. 19:44; Isa. 23:9), hence of cursing (Gen. 12:3; 1 Sam. 17:43; 2 Sam. 16:5). Some have suggested taking the form as a pual (Horst) or relating it to the Ugaritic qll, “fall” (Haldar), while others have emended the text into a noun, for example qi‚qa„lo‚t, “dung heap” (BHS), or qlyt, “shame” (G. R. Driver). J. M. P. Smith resolves the felt need for an active meaning here by omitting the כִּי and reading קָלוֹן (“dishonor”), thus translating the whole line, “I will make thy grave a dishonour.” In the light of the context, it is best to retain the MT and translate the form “you are vile” (lit. “of little account,” hence “contemptible”).

1:15 (HB 2:1) † Nahum uses the particle הִנֵּה to call attention to key descriptive statements in his prophetic discourses. Here it introduces the close of the first portion of the book.

The verb בִּשַּׂר does not necessarily mean a message of good news but simply indicates the bearing of a message (cf. 1 Sam. 4:17-18). Similarly, the Akkadian cognate bussurum means basically “bring a message.”81 Nevertheless, it is most often used in the OT, as in Ugaritic, of bearing glad tidings, hence is translated that way in most English versions. For the combination of good news and peace, see Isa. 52:7; Luke 2:10, 14; Acts 10:36.

חַגַּיִךְ... תָגִּי (“celebrate your feasts/festivals”): The noun is cognate accusative. The great yearly feasts (perhaps often curtailed during the years of Assyrian oppression) centered on God’s saving acts in behalf of His people (Deut. 16:16).

Votive offerings were a matter of the believer’s free will, but once made they were to be kept and were to be of high quality (cf. Lev. 22:18-25; 27:1-13; Num. 15:2-16; Deut. 12:6-7; 23:21-23 [HB 23:22-24]; Prov. 20:25; Eccles. 5:4-7 [HB 5:3-6]). Gordon Wenharn’s remarks on Leviticus 27 are most appropriate:

Vows are made in the heat of the moment. In retrospect, when the crisis is over, they may well seem foolish and unnecessary, and the person who made the vow may be tempted to forget it or only fulfil it partially. Scripture includes a number of warnings about such an attitude.... It may well be part of the purpose of this chapter to discourage rash swearing by fixing a relatively high price for the discharge of the vows, and penalizing those who change their minds.82

נְדָרָיִךְ (“your vows”) rhymes with חַגַּיִךְ (“your feasts”) of the preceding line, a fact that probably accounts for the sandwiched position of “Judah” between חַגַּיִךְ and חָגִּי.

נִכְרָת כֻּלּה: This line not only illustrates the familiar poetic device of ending a stanza with a short line; its brevity also gives the effect of an action that is quick and thorough. The promise of complete annihilation of the enemy such that it could never again invade Jerusalem/Judah, together with the promise of peace and prosperity for God’s people, is repeated elsewhere in the prophets (e.g., Isa. 52:1, 7; Joel 3:17 [HB 4:17]). The prophecy of certain judgment and sure deliverance is basic to the scriptural teaching concerning the Day of the Lord.83

The Doom of Nineveh Described, Part One
(Nahum 2:1-13 [HB 2:2-14])

Having declared Nineveh’s certain doom and Judah’s sure relief, Nahum turns to the chief consideration of his prophecy: the fall of Nineveh. Chapters 2 and 3 will again be punctuated with a style of alternating considerations. None of this bears the slightest resemblance, however, to theories of a sort of pan-Babylonian prophetic liturgy proposed by men like Sellin and Fohrer who isolate some three groups of liturgical material in Nahum. Bullock correctly points out that

an alternating pattern between addresses to Nineveh and Judah is identifiable in chapter 2, but the kind of responses one would expect in a liturgy are hard to find in the book. Further, the superscription calls it an “oracle” and a “vision,” terms that hardly qualify for a liturgical composition.84

Rather, the alternating considerations take the form of an introductory theme that once again traces the respective fortunes of Nineveh and Judah (2:1-2), followed by a pair of descriptions of Nineveh’s fall (2:3-10; 3:1-7), and capped by concluding taunt songs (2:11-13; 3:8-19) that underscore the helplessness of Nineveh’s situation. The whole section, then, flows from an introductory reiteration of the book’s basic thesis: God is a just governor of the nations who will punish wicked Nineveh and restore His own people. This theme is developed with regard to Nineveh by means of a long narrative section (2:3-10) and a woe oracle (3:1-7) and is specifically applied in the form of taunt songs, a literary technique well attested in ancient victory songs (2:11-13; 3:8-19). Graphic literary figures abound in these two chapters, discussions of which can be found in the introductory remarks to the individual units.

A. Theme (2:1-2 [HB 2:2-3])


A scatterer has come against you*.

“Guard* the fortress,

      watch the road,

strengthen your loins,

      summon all your strength!”

2For Yahweh will restore the splendor of Jacob

      like* the splendor* of Israel;

for plunderers have plundered them

      and destroyed their vines.*

Exegesis and Exposition

The fate of plotting Nineveh (cf. 1:11-15) is carried forward in the announcement of the arrival of its attacker. Nineveh’s besieger is called literally “a scatterer.”* The reference is doubtless to the coming army composed of Chaldeans, Medes, and Ummanmanda (Scythians?) before whom Nineveh eventually fell.

The demise of the decaying Assyrian empire was assured from the moment of Ashurbanipal’s death in 626 B.C. In the following year the Chaldean king Nabopolassar would gain independence for Babylon and initiate the Neo-Babylonian kingdom. Over the course of the next dozen years Nabopolassar would succeed in gradually reducing the Assyrian hold on Mesopotamia, especially as he would finally make common cause with his allies. The ancient capital city of Ashur was to fall in 614 B.C.; Nineveh’s own fall would take place a scant two years later. Because the Assyrians would survive to fight two still later campaigns (Haran, 609 B.C.; Carchemish, 605 B.C.), “scatterer” (cf. 3:18) is an appropriate designation for Nineveh’s attackers. Nahum’s prophecy centers on the fall of Nineveh, for its capture would mark the end of an era and the onset of the Neo-Babylonian empire, whose greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 B.C.), would prove to play a dramatic role in Judah’s own later history (2 Kings 24:1-25:26; 2 Chron. 36:5-21; Jer. 37-39; 52:1-30; Ezek. 24; Dan. 1-4).

In the light of the critical announcement, Nahum issues a four-fold command. Each of the imperatives is expressed asyndetically, thus producing a staccato effect and lending urgency and dramatic appeal to the scene. Nahum’s admonitions are probably to be understood as irony, perhaps with a touch of sarcasm. The four lie in a double set of brief commands, the first pair of which concerns the city itself and the second its citizens. The defenders are to “guard the fortress” and to “watch the road.”* They are urged to make Nineveh’s fortifications secure, at the same time watching closely the routes that would lead the enemy to the city. Having seen to the city’s protection, they are to draw up their courage (lit. “strengthen your loins”*) and gather all their strength in order to be ready for instantaneous action, mentally and physically. Because Nineveh’s doom had already been announced (chap. 1), all such efforts were obviously destined for failure. Mighty Nineveh would be powerless before its assailants, despite any and all efforts to defend it.

In contrast to the certain destruction of Nineveh, oft-destroyed Israel/Judah, whose defeat had frequently been reported in the Assyrian annals, would know the restoration* and splendor that only a sovereign and beneficent God can give. Indeed, the prophets frequently predict that God will yet “restore the fortunes” of His people (cf. Hos. 6:11; Joel 3:1 [HB 4:1]; Amos 9:14; see also Jer. 30:18; 31:23; 32:44) in an era of renewed refreshment, prosperity, and happiness. The promise harks back to God’s people as heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 17:3-8; 22:17-18; 28:13-15). The play on words here, Jacob/Israel, is probably not to distinguish between the northern and southern kingdoms, for only Judah now existed, but rather, as Cyril suggested so long ago, to emphasize the great future revival and blessing of God. As a disciplined, repentant, and more matured Jacob had been given reassurance of his participation in God’s covenant with Abraham, signified by his receiving the new name Israel (Gen. 32:28; 35:9-15), so God’s people would yet know the glorious provisions of His irrevocable promises. Keil expresses it well:

Both names stand here for the whole of Israel.... Jacob is the natural name which the people inherited from their forefather, and Israel the spiritual name which they had received from God.... He will exalt the nation once more to the lofty eminence of its divine calling.85

The realization of Israel’s full covenant blessings will find fulfillment in a great future day when the glorious one (Isa. 24:14-16) will dwell (cf. Joel 3:17, 21 [HB. 4:17, 21]; Ezek. 48:35) in the midst of His people, thus giving glory to His nation and land (cf. Deut. 33:27-29; Isa. 4:2; 60:15).

Additional Notes

2:1 (HB 2:2) † The announcement of the advance of the “scatterer” provides a thought that is bookended in 3:18-19 by the mention of the scattered refugees. The thought of destruction in 2:1-10 forms a literary link with 1:11-15 (cf. v. 14). The identity of the scatterer has been discussed often. Because the hiphil is regularly used of God as the disperser of nations (cf. 2 Sam. 22:15; Ps. 144:6; Isa. 24:1; Hab. 3:14), the possibility must be entertained that God could be intended here. But human agency is also expressed by the stem of this verb (cf. Jer. 23:1-2) and seems clearly the intent (although under the control of God) of the description that follows (cf. 3:5-7). Likewise, the synonym פָּזַר (“scatter”) is used of both divine (Ps. 89:10 [HB 89:11]) and human (Jer. 50:17) agency. Attempts to identify any one particular scatterer (e.g., Cyaxeres the Mede, Nabopolassar, or Nebuchadnezzar) are pointless, the masc. sing. participle being either the common collective singular or simply singular because the precise enemy was not further identified in Nahum’s predictive perception. If Nahum had been written later, as some critics affirm, more than likely the foe(s) would have been clearly designated. Attempts to emend the text to read “hammerer” (cf. BHS) are not suitable to the context.

†The phrase עַל ... עָלָה (“come up against”) is often used as part of the technical vocabulary for military action (cf. Isa. 7:1; Joel 1:6). It occurs with place names 12 times in the OT and with general designations 8 times.

נָצוֹר (“guard”) is an infinitive absolute, used here as a substitute for an imperative to give greater vividness. Accordingly Cathcart may be correct in suggesting that the three succeeding verbal forms ( צַפֵּה, חַזֵּק, and אַמֵּץ) are also to be so identified. If so, all four verbal forms refer to the near antecedent “you” (i.e., Nineveh). Nevertheless, because it is true that an infinitive absolute when used as a substitute for a finite verbal form will often be constructed with a following required finite form, Gesenius considers the three verbal forms in question to be imperatives.86 If Gesenius is right, since they are masc. sing. they could refer to the army of Nineveh or to the citizenry as a whole. Armerding’s suggestion that they must refer to the “scatterer” (a masc. sing. participle), although yielding tolerable sense, is unnecessary and unsuitable both on the basis of the perceived literary structure of the book, which views vv. 1-2 as a restatement of the theme, and because the simplest understanding of the command takes them to refer to the defenders. Moreover, although the latter pair of imperatives might apply equally well to attacker or defender, the former pair seems clearly to be related to matters of defense.

צַפֵּה (“watch,” cf. Akkadian s£apu‚, “watch”, “look out”) carries with it the idea of an intense gazing (Ps. 66:7; Prov. 15:3). As a substantive it is used of a watchman, one usually stationed on a wall, whose duties included that of informing his superiors of impending danger (e.g., 2 Kings 9:17-20). The LXX ἐχ θλίΨεως (“out of tribulation”) arises from a wrong understanding of the MT.

Strengthening the loins” implies not only the more familiar “girding up the loins” (i.e., of the full-flowing garment so as to be ready for action) but also gathering all of one’s personal and physical strength, as the parallel line makes clear.

2:2 (HB 2:3) The phrase “restore the splendor” carries with it the more usual thought of “restore the fortune.” The latter phrase is at times rendered “bring again the captivity” (KJV), an idea supported by the LXX and Pesh.87 The thoughts are supplementary: A repentant, redeemed Israel will be freed from exile and restored to its promised land to enjoy an era of peace and prosperity permeated by the glorious presence of her heavenly Redeemer. It is small wonder, then, that Nahum can speak of the restored glory of Jacob or that Daniel can speak of the land of Israel as “the beautiful land” (Dan. 11:41).

כִּגְאוֹן: The כּ is customarily taken as a comparative particle, “like,” even though Cathcart insists that the whole sentence be translated “for Yahweh is restoring the glory of Jacob, indeed the glory of Israel”88 (i.e., rendering the particle as emphatic). גָּאוֹן can be translated positively (“splendor”), as here, or negatively (“pride”; cf. Prov. 8:13; 16:18; Isa. 16:6). Because of the occurrence of “their vines” in the latter part of the verse, some (cf. BHS) have suggested that the proper reading here should be גֶּפֶן (“vine”). Thus J. M. P. Smith declares: “The following line demands the mention of a vine here as the antecedent of its thought. The words ‘vine’ and ‘pride’ in Hebrew vary only in one consonant; hence confusion in copying was easy.”89 Some suggest that the “their” of the last line logically calls for an antecedent that is best provided by reading “vine” instead of “splendor” in the earlier parallel line. The proper antecedent of “their vines,” however, as well as for the previous “plundered them,” is the earlier occurring pair “Jacob” and “Israel.” Those two names, though mentioned individually for the purpose of drawing an analogy between Jacob/Israel and present/future Judah (see Exegesis and Ex-position), taken together traditionally symbolized “all Israel.” A logical plural, Jacob/Israel forms a proper antecedent for the pronouns “them” and “their” in the last two lines of v. 2. It may be added that the plurals in both cases could also refer to the people of Jacob/Israel.

Still further, the occurrence of “vines” does not necessitate a change of גָּאוֹן to גֶּפֶן, for obvious progression of thought is intended by introducing the subject of vines. The vine was a well-known symbol of the covenant relation between God and Israel (Isa. 5:1-7; Ezek. 17; cf. Ps. 80:8 [HB 80:9]). Together with the fig tree, the vine was symbolic of God’s blessing upon His people (Hos. 2:12; Amos 4:9; Mic. 4:4; cf. 1 Kings 4:25 [HB 5:5]; 2 Kings 18:31; see also Ps. 105:33; Isa. 36:16; Jer. 5:17; 8:13; Hag. 2:19; Zech. 3:10). The point of the flow of thought in the verse is not repetition of figure but advance. Israel’s glory/splendor lay in her relation to the glorious One. The evidence of His presence and blessings consisted in the fruitfulness of the vine. When the vine lay devastated by plague (e.g., Joel 1:4) or the invader’s heel (as here), it was indicative of God’s chastisement of His people. God used such means and symbols to bring His people to repentance and spiritual growth, from being “Jacob” to being “Israel.” With repentance and restoration would come renewed splendor and fruitfulness.

†Some have seen in וּזְמֹרֵיהֶם (“and their vines”) an indication of the meaning “branches/shoots” and hence another need for reading גֶּפֶן for גָּאוֹן in the earlier part of the verse. But Cathcart is probably right in suggesting that this is simply a case of pars pro toto, with a whole plant (vine and branches) being intended. Cathcart’s own further suggestion of relating the word to the root dmr (“protect”) and to an Ugaritic word for a class of soldiers seems forced, as does Stone-house’s proposal to translate the phrase “their oliveyards.”90 It is interesting to note, however, that גָּאוֹן and the root dmr occur in close proximity in Ex. 15 where, after Moses says, “Yah is my strength and power” ( זִמְרָת, v. 2), he tells of the greatness of God’s majesty ( גָּאוֹן). It is of course impossible to ascertain whether Nahum was drawing upon the Exodus hymn (as did Isaiah [Isa. 12:2] and the psalmist [Ps. 118:14]), but if he was indebted to such a setting, the argument for retaining גָּאוֹן would be further strengthened and the final זְמֹרֵיהֶם could be translated “their defenses.” Significantly, שָׁחַת, which follows, is often used in military contexts by the prophets (cf. Isa. 14:20; Jer. 48:18; Ezek. 26:4).

It should be noted in passing that Maier attempts to build a case for the negative use of גָּאוֹן here by postulating that the previous verb is not derived from שׁוּב (“return/restore”) but from שָׁבַב (“cut off/destroy”). Although this makes for a tolerable translation and allows the image of destroying to form an inclusio for the verse, it does not yield the smoothest exegetical sense. Verses 1-2 are clearly a reiteration of the theme of the book and thus contain, as traditionally affirmed, a contrast between the fate of Nineveh and that of Judah. Both instances of the particle כִּי are to be taken causally, the information contained in the second כִּי clause deriving from that introduced by the first.

בֹּקְקִים בְקָקוּם (“plunderers have plundered them”): Two roots have generally been seen to lie behind these words: bqq I, “lay waste,” and bqq II, “be luxuriant.”91 Because the reasons for the restoration of God’s people/land are being introduced, the former root is the more appropriate one. It will figure prominently again in v. 11. The repetition of the root reflects Nahum’s literary flair (cf. מְצֻרָה נָצוֹר in v. 2). Nahum’s piling up of similar sounds is also to be noticed, s occurring eight times (cf. five uses of in v. 1). Because the chief emphasis of the judgment is directed against Nineveh, “the plunderers” are probably the Assyrians primarily, even though Israel had known the incursion of many invaders from all sides. Since Nahum prophesied during the reign of wicked Manasseh, the recent campaigns of Sennacherib and Esarhaddon would have been fresh in the memories of Nahum and all Judah. The annals of Sennacherib’s third campaign report the following:

As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke. I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well-stamped (earth-)ramps, and battering-rams brought (thus) near to the walls (combined with) the attack by foot soldiers, (using) mines, breeches as well as sapper work. I drove out (of them) 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting and considered (them) booty.92

Esarhaddon records that he summoned his vassal Manasseh to Nineveh: “And I summoned the kings of the Hittiteland (Syria) and (those) across the sea,—Ba’lu, king of Ty-re, Manasseh, king of Judah. . . .”93 If Nahum’s prophecy dates from as late as Ashurbanipal’s later western campaigns (650-648 B.C.), his words would be all the more vivid.94

B. Development: First Description Of Nineveh’s Demise
(2:3-10 [HB 2:4-11])

Nahum turns from his introductory theme to the first of two descriptions of Nineveh’s certain destruction. The section contains two parts: (1) a description of the attackers of Nineveh (vv. 3-6), and (2) the consequences of the attack for Nineveh (vv. 7-10). It is marked by several distinctive literary features (references are to the MT) such as the use of simile (vv. 5, 8, 9), metonymy (v. 4), and synecdoche (v. 5), chiasmus (vv. 5, 8), enjambment (v. 8), and especially paronomasia, by which the poet makes skillful plays on words (vv. 9, 10, 11), sounds (vv. 5, 9, 10, 11), and even letters (vv. 5-6: y, q, h; 9: m; 10: k, q; 11: b). There may be an instance of irony in v. 9.


The shields of the soldiers are red(dened),

      the warriors are dressed in scarlet;

the coverings* on the chariot are like fire in the day of its preparation,

      and the spears* are brandished.

4Through the streets the chariots race wildly,

      they rush to and fro through the squares.

Their appearance is like (flaming) torches;

      like (streaking) lightning they flash here and there.

5He gives orders to* his mighty men*,

      they stumble forward* on their way;

they hasten to the wall*,

      and the protective shield* is put in place*.

6The river gates are opened,

      and the palace collapses and crumbles.

7Her exiles* are carried away,

      and her handmaidens moan*—

      like the sound of doves

      (while) beating* on their breasts.

8As for Nineveh, her waters* are like a pool* of water,

      and they (her citizens) are fleeing away.

“Stop! Stop!”* But no one turns around*.

9”Plunder* the silver! Plunder* the gold!”

For there is no end* to the treasure*,

      the abundance/wealth of all its precious things*.

10She is destroyed, despoiled, and denuded*;

      hearts melt and knees shake;

there is trembling in all the loins,

      and all faces grow pale*.

Exegesis and Exposition

Nahum’s description of the attack against Nineveh begins with a consideration of its attackers (vv. 3-6). The invading army’s attire and equipment are described first (v. 3). They are clad in scarlet* and carry reddened* shields, all of which would not only give a distinctive color to the army in the hand-to-hand combat that was sure to come but would also provide a grim forecast of the shedding of the defenders’ blood that would soon be mingled with the reddish clothing and equipment of the striking force. Adding to the awesome appearance of the “scatterer” was the terrifying sight of its chariotry. With horse and chariot bedecked with highly polished metal that gleamed like fire in the brilliant Near Eastern sunlight and with soldiers equipped with polished cypress spears (which often give a reddish appearance) that they brandished smartly (perhaps at first in military drill, but soon in battle), the effect of the whole spectacle was designed to strike terror into the stoutest of hearts.

A well-known question arises concerning the description of the chariots: Does the activity of the chariots continue the depiction of the basic preparatory actions of the besiegers (v. 3), or does it constitute the first movement in the attack against the city’s walls (vv. 5-6)? The solution to the problem probably lies in viewing v. 4 as a hinge, a unit of thought that has individual existence and yet binds two portions of a narrative together. That such is the case may be corroborated by noting the designed stitching effect of the word “chariot” (v. 3) and the image of hurrying (cf. v. 5). The transitional nature of v. 4 as a hinge may be further seen in the employment of a first-slot preposition to introduce new, yet related, material (cf. 1:11) and the use of pivot-pattern parallelism, a feature often utilized in introducing a new unit.95 The result is a clear pattern describing the siege of Nineveh: the enemy’s assembling of his forces (v. 3), the initial advance (v. 4), and the all-out attack (vv. 5-6) and its aftermath (vv. 7-10). Thus the hurrying and scurrying of men and chariots described in v. 4 constitute the preparatory stage that will lead to the opening assault. What a sight it must have been for the defenders, with metallic trappings sending back the sun’s rays in such reflective splendor that they doubtless seemed to the observing eve to be now like a gleaming torch* and now like a flash of lightning!*

The scene progresses from one of preparation and advance to one of conflict (vv. 5-6). With the staging operations completed, the enemy commander gives the order to charge the wall. The seasoned warriors respond instantly. Hastening forward, they reach Nineveh’s massive city wall where they put in place the mantelet that will give them protection from Nineveh’s defenders during the siege operations (cf. Jer. 52:4; Ezek. 4:2). Thus protected from the flying arrows, falling stones, and lighted torches that came down from the city’s protectors atop the wall, the process of breaching the city could begin. Typically this would include the use of siege mounds and towers, scaling ladders and tunneling operations, battering rams and axes, and the torching of the city gate. For Nineveh the means of defeat, however, came from an unexpected source. Nineveh trusted not only in her massive walls that Sennacherib had begun and named “The Wall That Terrifies the Enemy” (outer wall) and “The Wall Whose Splendor Overwhelms the Foe” (inner wall) but also in her surrounding moat and the proximity of the Tigris River. Yet ironically these defenses would work against the proud city. Diodorus reports that a series of torrential downpours swelled the “Euphrates” (i.e., the city’s river systems: the Khosr, which flowed through the city, and the Tigris) and flooded Nineveh, thereby undermining its wall and causing the collapse of a significant part of it.

Sennacherib had also built a double dam for the Khosr River to form a reservoir for Nineveh’s populace. This was augmented by a series of dam gates or sluices to regulate the supply of water to the city. Maier may be right in suggesting that the primary intent of Nahum’s prediction is that the advancing enemy would shut the sluices, thereby cutting off the city’s drinking supply. But with the reservoir full, the gates would again be opened, causing the already flooded Khosr to destroy the surrounding walls where it entered the Ninlil Gate. Furthermore: “The Quay Gate, at which the Khosr left the city, might also be devastated and in the intervening city much serious damage done. After the flow subsided, the entrance to Nineveh would have been made much easier for the besiegers.”96

Perhaps these data are to be received as representing the true intent of the prophecy. In any case, biblical evidence (cf. 3:8ff.) and historical tradition combine to indicate that neither wall nor water would deliver the seemingly impregnable city. Accordingly, Zephaniah’s prophecy takes on a touch of poignancy and pathos: “He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and as dry as the desert” (Zeph. 2:13).

Nahum next envisions the subsequent collapse of Nineveh’s magnificent palace. As the account unfolds, entrance to the city has been gained by the attackers, for the Assyrians are seen as being captured and led away into exile, while the women, pleading for mercy and bewailing their fate, are being led away moaning plaintively. Michael Travers aptly remarks:

It is in this narrative unit that Nahum creates one of his most pathetic scenes, that of the terror of the innocent people of Nineveh. In a simile, Nahum depicts the anguish of the innocent slave girls of the city as the moan of doves (2:7). The slave girls are helpless victims of their masters’ demise. The simile evokes pathos, compassion for the slaves’ imminent deaths.97

Whether the magnificent north palace (recently built by Ashurbanipal and furnished with stunning examples of Assyrian beaux artes) or the south palace (built by Sennacherib and restored by Ashurbanipal, who kept most of the documents of his famous library there) is meant is not certain. Obviously, however, the city has been breached and the end is near.

The inevitable consequences that follow upon a city’s capture are then detailed (vv. 8-10). The progression in the scene is heightened through anticipatory emphasis: “As for Nineveh.” Henceforth the fate of the fallen city is in view. Conquered Nineveh is said to be “like a pool of water.” The simile is both effective and apropos. Mighty Nineveh was situated in a favorable location that blessed her with an adequate water supply, one made more abundant by wise administrative leadership. But now the blessing has turned into a curse at the hands of the enemy whose siege operations have left Nineveh a veritable “pool of water.” From the waters and the crumbling city the masses flee away in sheer panic.

In the midst of the clamor of the departing throng an impassioned voice rings out: “Stop! Stop!” Whether the person crying out is an Assyrian civil or military official, or whether the words were uttered by Nahum himself and intended to be taken as irony, is not certain. One thing is sure: No one turns around, much less halts, in his desperate flight. Another cry is heard (the entire scene is depicted with the author’s characteristic picturesque brevity): “Plunder the silver! Plunder the gold!” Are they the words of the invaders, the prophet, or God Himself? Regardless, it is ultimately the certain judgment of God. Nineveh, who had heaped up hordes of captured treasure, would now face despoliation. The precious possessions of nations that poured into the Neo-Assyrian capital as a result of trade, tribute, and booty were almost beyond counting. Now Nineveh in turn would have her riches taken away. Maier’s observations are once again to the point:

In remarkable agreement with Nahum’s prophecy that “there is no end to the store” is the factual account in the Babylonian Chronicle that the spoil taken at Nineveh’s capture was “a quantity beyond counting.” To understand that this statement was not a conventional exaggeration but that the plunder in the city which once plundered the adjacent world was fabulous in amount and value, one need but scan the records of the Sargonide dynasty to find the lists of heavy loot exacted by Nineveh. During Ashurbanipal’s long reign the wealth of Babylon, Thebes, and Susa were brought to the capital. Significantly, little gold or silver has been discovered in the Kouyunjik mounds. The city was completely sacked.98

The call to loot the great city does not go unanswered. The final description comes to its readers like the repeated tolling of a bell in dirge-like wailing: bu‚qa‚! u‚meŒbu‚qa‚! u‚me†bulla„qa‚! Nineveh was “destroyed, and despoiled, and denuded.” The sight would send such a shudder through the strongest people that uncontrollable trembling would seize the entire body and their faces blanch. The portrayal is one of abject terror, painted again in synecdoche and picturesque brevity: melting hearts, knees knocking together, bodies writhing, faces made colorless with fright. Laetsch describes it well:

The heart of the people, their spirit, once so fearless, so proud, so indomitable, now is melted like wax. Alarm, fear, terror, consternation, black despair grip them. No longer can they form any plan of resistance; their knees tremble; sickening anguish, nauseating horror grips their loins. Their faces “gather blackness,” assume the livid, ashen color of people frightened to death.99

Additional Notes

2:3 (HB 2:4) The reddened shields refer perhaps to highly polished metal fittings that gleamed in the sunlight or to the dyeing of the shields with red color so as to strike terror into the hearts of the enemy. Some have suggested that it might be a veiled reference to the Assyrians’ blood that would yet be splattered on them. The adjective מְאָדָּם (“red”) is sing., agreeing with מָגֵן, which, though sing., must be translated as a pl. in accordance with the demands of the context. Singular construct nouns followed by plurals may be translated as plurals. Interestingly enough, Nahum utilizes the opposite structure to express the pl. in the parallel line, the construct pl. being followed by a sing. noun אַנְשֵׁי־תַיִל (“warriors”).100

“Redness” is also indicated in the parallel line by the adjective מְתֻלָּעִים (“scarlet,” a plural in agreement with אַנְשֵׁי), referring to the attire of the soldiers. Some evidence exists for the wearing of reddish or purple dress into combat, perhaps to strike awe and terror into the hearts of the enemy (see Xenophon, Cyropaedia 6.4.1; cf. Ezek. 23:5-6). It is possible, of course, that this term may have simply been selected as a suitable parallel for מְאָדָּם, both words being used metonymically for the effects that the enemy’s spattered blood had on the warriors’ shields and garments.101 Final interpretation must be correlated with the succeeding lines, which appear to focus on the description of the army at the outset of the campaign (v. 3b) before moving on to detail its approach (v. 4) and attack (vv. 5-6). If so, the scenario of “spattered blood” is probably out of synchronization.

†The translation of the word פלדות has been much disputed. On the basis of the Arabic fu‚la„d (cf. Syriac pu‚la„d, “steel”), it is often taken to mean some such metal (cf. NASB, NIV, NJB). Others have suggested a transposition of the first two consonants to read lappi‚do‚t (“torches”; cf. BHS, Pesh., KJV), which, with the preceding “fire,” can be rendered something like “flash like fire” (RSV). Some have suggested a complete transposition of the consonants to read dlpt (from the root דָּלַף, “drop”) and propose the meaning “flickering” (thus NEB, “like flickering fire”). The difficulty of this well-known crux and the uncertainty reflected in the ancient versions (cf. LXX αἱ ἡνιαι and Vg habenai, “[the] reins”) have brought forward many guesses. One of the more interesting is that of Cathcart who relates the word to Ugaritic pld, a type of covering, and takes the following “chariots” to be metonymy for the harnessed chariots. He therefore translates the clause as “fiery are the caparisons of the horses.” Final certainty still escapes the expositor. Perhaps Cathcart and BHS are on the right track in relating the term to the Ugaritic word. Accordingly I have provisionally translated the line “the coverings on the chariot are like fire.” Thus construed, the thought is that the reflected gleam of the bedecked horses and chariots would strike yet further terror into the hearts of those who beheld the sight “on the day of its preparation” (i.e., for battle; cf. Prov. 21:31). Stylistically the whole thought is contained in two full lines that constitute a clear case of designed enjambment.

וְהַבְּרשִׁים has likewise been the subject of debate. The mention of a chariot in the previous clause has suggested to some the possible confusion of b and p in this one, thus an original וְהַפָּרָשִׁים (“steeds”; cf. NEB, RSV; or “horsemen,” NJB, LXX). One may note the combination of רֶכֶב and פָּרָשִׁים in Isa. 21:7. Because the connection of the word in the MT with cypress wood seems inescapable, however, the idea of highly polished spears or lances being brandished by the accompanying infantry or by the members of the chariot team seems to be most likely.102 The whole picture in verse 3b is clouded at best, with uncertainty attaching not only to the proper reading of the words in question but to the understanding of the final text. The difficulty of these lines was already apparent by the time of the ancient versions, as underscored by the great confusion evidenced in the LXX translation: “... with fire. In the day of his preparation the reins of their chariots and the horsemen will be disordered in their ranks.”

2:4 (HB 2:5) בַּחוּצוֹת (“through the streets”): As the note in The NIV Study Bible points out, the scene of the action described in this verse has been understood as that of the attackers or the defenders.103 The parallel term רְחֹבוֹת basically means “open places” and is used most often for wide places within a city or village (cf. Deut. 13:16 [HB 13:17]; Ezra 10:9; Neh. 8:1; Esther 4:6) but may possibly designate open places outside the city as well.104 The flow of thought in the passage appears to demand a location outside Nineveh proper. Therefore, “streets/squares” should probably be understood of the surrounding villages that made up Nineveh’s suburbs. The two words are used in parallel in such texts as Prov. 5:16; 7:12; 22:13; 26:13; Jer. 5:1; 9:20; Amos 5:16.

יִתְהוֹלְלוּ (“[the chariots] race wildly”), יִשְׁתַּקְשְׁקוּן (“they rush to and fro”), and יְרוֹצֵצוּ (“they flash here and there”) are all alternate D-stem verbs (hithpolel, hithpalpel, and polel respectively) expressing intensity of motion or special energy.105 Certainly each is well utilized by Nahum, who again demonstrates his literary expertise in choosing not only words but also forms that stress the activity and movement of the advancing chariotry. The first verb is found in a similar context in Jer. 46:9; the other verbal forms are hapax legomena, although their roots are attested elsewhere in the MT.

The swift movement of the chariots with their polished metal glistening in the sunlight makes an appearance כַּלַּפִּידִים (“like [flaming] torches”) and כַּבְּרָקִים (“like [flashing] lightning”). Again the whole effect produces awe and fright in the sight of all who beheld the spectacle. That vv. 3-4 have been preparatory to the actual attack to follow in vv. 5-6 is evident from Nahum’s employment of the unit-ending pivot device combined with a double chiasmus.106

2:5 (HB 2:6) † יִזְכֹּר (“he remembers”; cf. LXX, Vg; NASB, NKJV) seems to make little sense in the context unless, as some suggest, Yahweh is the subject, not the attacking enemy. The difficulty has occasioned numerous alternative suggestions for understanding the verb, such as “summon” (NIV, RSV; cf. NJB) or “recount” (KJV), as well as several conjectural emendations.107 Because the subject of the chapter thus far has been the “scatterer” and it would thus appear somewhat forced to suggest God as the subject here, because the usual meaning of the verb seems to be inappropriate if the “scatterer” is the subject, and because none of the conjectured readings can be viewed as satisfactory, some such alternative meaning as those suggested by several of the English versions needs to be found. “Recount (KJV) gives little sense to the context; “summon” (NIV, RSV), while not attested elsewhere in the OT for this verb (unless perhaps Job 14:13), yields tolerable sense here. Perhaps the best solution is to see the precise nuance as something like “(give) order(s) (to),” a meaning found in the Akkadian cognate zaka„ru,108 the thought being that of the commander giving the order to charge (the wall, v. 6b).

יִכָּשְׁלוּ (“they stumble”) has proved no less difficult. As Cathcart points out, the verb ka„sŒal is customarily used in military contexts to indicate weariness and lack of progress. Since none of the conjectural emendations rests on authoritative grounds or appreciably improves the sense, the nuance of the verb in this context must be decided in accordance with its normal semantic range. Because the following lines, like the one preceding this verb, envision the attacking force, it cannot be the defenders who “stumble on their way.” Although a final solution is not yet forthcoming, it may be helpful to view the stumbling as occurring among the attacking soldiers. Thus, if the command to charge the wall has just been given (as suggested above), an overzealous response might well occasion a first stumbling, much as an athlete often stumbles by an initial overstride from a standing start. Even normally quick movements can cause stumbling. This idea is supported by the report of the next line: “They hasten to the wall.”

†The sense of אַדִּירָיו (“his great ones”) is not necessarily the more usual “officers/nobles/chieftains” or “picked troops” of the NIV, for the word probably refers to the magnificently attired (v. 3) general soldiery, here designated according to their established reputation, hence “his mighty men.”

חוֹמָתָהּ: Although some have suggested a repointing of the word to yield a directive he at its end (cf. Tg. Neb., Pesh.), the MT is fully defensible as an adverbial accusative with 3d fem. sing. suffix, “(to) her (Nineveh’s) walls (cf. LXX).”109

הַסֹּכֵךְ וְהֻכַן (“and the protective shield is put in place”): Although Cathcart proposes repointing the verbal form וְהֻכַן to a hiphil infinitive absolute (to continue a preceding verbal clause, as is common in Northwest Semitic), the shift from an active verb to a passive one in parallelism is not without precedent (cf. Pss. 24:7; 69:14 [HB 69:15]; Jer. 31:4; Hos. 5:5). An emendation to a 3d masc. pl. verb (cf. LXX) is also not necessary. The shift from prefix- to suffix-conjugation verb not only brings the bicolon to an end but also portrays the result of the action of the initial surge to the wall.

The hapax legomenon הַסֹּכֵךְ must refer to some type of covering, as a glance at its cognates shows.110 The consistent attention directed to the activities of the scatterer suggests a mantelet, or large protective shield, used by the attackers to shield them from the arrows and missiles of the defenders on the wall. Laetsch points out that

the Assyrians used smaller, hutlike shelters which could be readily carried by a few men, or larger, towerlike structures rolled on wheels to the top of the embankments built round about the besieged city. The sheds offered protection to the soldiers while building these embankments, and later while seeking to undermine the foundations of the walls to hasten their collapse. The towers were provided with machines hurling stones and firebrands against the walls and into the city, in order to smash the fortifications and start conflagrations. Moved close to the walls, they also offered vantage points for attack by the soldiers.111

The presence of the double k in this word is a reminder of the prophet’s frequent use of the repetition of a particular consonant for sound effect. (k is employed six times in this verse, three occurrences being found in this clause alone.) Such assonance not only links the action more closely but underscores dramatically the rushing movement to the wall.

2:6 (HB 2:7) †With the Hebrew שְׁעָרִים (“sluice/dam gates”) compare Old South Arabic tàrt (“sluices”). For the root מוּג (“melt”), see the discussion in the note on 1:5. The “melting” here could be viewed as a description of the fear aroused among the inhabitants of the palace or as the collapsing of the palace walls (so the ancient versions) due to flooding or fire. The noun הֵיכָל (cf. Sumerian É-GAL; Akkadian e„kallu), “large house,” “palace,” “temple,” was also used in the OT for the holy place of the Solomonic Temple (1 Kings 6:17).112 The definite article here renders it probable that the reference is to the king’s palace rather than to one of Nineveh’s several temples.

והצב occurs as the first word in v. 7 (HB v. 8). It has proved to be a time-honored crux interpretum. Maier provides a list of more than a dozen suggestions that have been put forward as a sample of the many ideas that have been proposed. The ancient versions are likewise in disagreement. Basically three positions have been taken. (1) The form is a noun ( hus£s£a„b) meaning something like “beauty,” “lady,” “mistress” and refers either to Nineveh itself or to the statue of Ishtar that was housed there (Cathcart). (2) The form is a verb that is to be translated either “it is decreed” (NIV, NKJV) or “dissolved” (NASB; i.e., the palace or its column base113). (3) The form should be emended entirely.114 The problem is heightened by the two feminine verbs that follow. J. M. P. Smith declares the form “insoluble” and the meaning of the whole line “hopelessly obscured.”115 Although final certainty continues to escape Nahum’s interpreters, perhaps the solution lies along literary lines in (1) understanding (with Saggs) הֻצַּב in the sense of “dissolved” (cf. Akkadian nas£a„bu, “suck out,” or Arabic d£abba, “to hew to the ground”) and (2) placing the word in v. 6 (HB v. 7), a procedure that would yield a poetic 3/3 structure for this verse and a resultant double set of 2/2 in the following verse. This procedure would also provide a second consecutive verse that is closed by a passive suffix-conjugation verb. Thus construed the verse yields good sense: “The palace collapses and crumbles.”

2:7 (HB 2:8) †It is better to point the MT גֻּלְּתָה (“[she was] stripped”) as גָּלתָהּ (“her exiles/captives”).116 Such a reading nicely anticipates the employment of the same figure in 3:10. By taking וְהֻצַּב with v. 6 and by following the pointing suggested here, v. 7, though in narrative structure, takes on poetic proportions as a deliberately designed instance of enjambment. Not only does such a procedure allow Nahum’s literary abilities to be seen more clearly and provide a smooth translation of vv. 6 and 7, but there is also no interpretive need for the supposed presence of a stripped Assyrian queen, as suggested by some. Nor is there need for seeing the statue of Ishtar being carried away. The NIV translation “(the city) be exiled” rests on a repointing of MT to גָּלְתָה (cf. Vg captivus abductus est, “is carried away captive,” and NEB “[the train of captives] goes into exile”).

†The root נָהַג (“moan”) is a hapax legomenon, although it is well attested in Syriac and Arabic. מְתֹפְפֹת (“beating”) is a denominative from תֹּף (“tambourine”), here in the polel stem to indicate the women’s repeated striking of their breasts in lamentation. Cathcart appropriately calls attention to a similar sentiment in the Curse of Agade. Such actions were typically carried out by women who were pleading for mercy in situations like these.117

2:8 (HB 2:9) † כִּבְרֵכַת־מַיִם (“like a pool of water”): The word for pool is frequently attested in the OT and appears in the Siloam inscription (line 5)118 as well as in Ugaritic, South Arabic, and Egyptian (= brkt). Recent scholarship has tended to suggest a second root alongside the more customary one that yields בָּרַךְ (“bless”).119 It at times implies an artificial pool (Neh. 3:16), a meaning that is appropriate here.

הִיא מִימֵי (“her waters”): These words have occasioned numerous comments. Among those that attempt to retain the consonantal text of the MT, two primary ideas have been put forward. (1) Some have opted for dividing the two words as מִן (“from”) plus the pl. of יוֹם (“day”) plus הָ (= 3d fem. sing. pronominal suffix) and translating “throughout her days” (NASB; cf. KJV, “of old”). (2) Most view the first word as the pl. construct of מַיִס (“waters”), as suggested by the ancient versions. But, because the pl. construct form is followed by a fem. sing. independent pronoun, a construction that grammarians have generally considered to be “evidently corrupt,”120 critical scholars have tended to emend the text to read מֵימֶיהָ (“her waters”).121 This approach, combined with the following phrase, has produced translations such as “whose waters run away” (RSV; cf. NJB). As Cathcart demonstrates, however, precedent for the reading found in the MT is attested amply in Ugaritic, where the independent pronoun in such cases is found in both the genitive and accusative.122 Taking the MT at face value and following Keil’s observation that the next clause deals with Nineveh’s citizens, not water,123 the whole idea makes good sense by rendering it according to the translation provided at the beginning of this section. The effect is again almost poetic, yielding three lines composed as 3/2/2, with enjambment over lines one and two.

עֲמֹדוּ עִמְדוּ (“Stop! Stop!”): The second imperative is pausal. NIV inserts “they cry” after the two imperatives ad sensum, a proposal put forward by several critics who insert some such form as אָמַר (“say/cry”) or זָעַק (“cry/yell”) before or after the imperatives. The compressed speech and asyndetically juxtaposed imperatives of the MT are far more dramatic as the text stands.

מַפְנֶה וְאֵין (“but no one turns around”): The words are reminiscent of Jer. 46:5, 21. Cathcart perspicaciously calls attention to the heaping up of the letter m in this verse (nine times), an assonance that enhances dramatic effect.

2:9 (HB 2:10) † בֹּזּוּ (“plunder!”): The double imperative doubtless answers to the pair in the previous verse. LXX reads διήρπαζον (“they seized”), suggesting an original suffix-conjugation in their exemplar. Although this reading is followed by some critics, it is unnecessary and at variance with the dramatic effect in the MT. Silver and gold often appear as set pairs to express wealth or booty (Gen. 24:34; Josh. 6:19).124

קֵצֶה אֵין (“there is no end”; cf. 3:3, 9) occurs in the OT outside Nahum only in the remarkable parallel in Isa. 2:7. Armerding points this out as one of many texts that show a literary interdependence between the two prophets.

חֶמְדָּה כְּלִי (“precious things”) occurs elsewhere with silver and gold (2 Chron. 32:27; Dan. 11:8; Hos. 13:15). The root h£md connotes a strong desire, hence “desirable/precious things,” and as such was intended possibly as a suitable literary envelope with the earlier כֶּסֶף (“silver”).

תְּכוּנָה (“treasure,” from כּוּן [“be established,” “prepare”]) refers to the furnishings of proud Nineveh. The booty to be taken from Nineveh thus included not only its precious metals but also the many objects and utensils made from them. Together with the next line, the general sense is that Nineveh possessed untold wealth of every conceivable kind. TeŒku‚na‚ also performs a rhyming function with h£emda‚.

2:10 (HB 2:11) † וּמְבֻלָּקָה וּמְבוּקָה בּוּקָה (“destroyed and despoiled and denuded”): The assonance and alliteration are striking. Cathcart calls attention to a stylistic resemblance with Isa. 22:5 as well as to the employment of the root בָּלַק with בָּקַק in Isa. 24:1 followed by the use of בָּקַק and בָּזַז two verses later. Although this type of paronomasia is common enough in the OT (e.g., Joel 2:2; Mic. 1:10ff.; cf. Nah. 2:2 [HB 2:3]), the parallels with Isaiah are striking and may point to a further literary relationship between the two prophets.

†The appearance of the root חוּל (“tremble”) in parallel with קִבְּעוּ פָּארוּר (“[all faces] grow pale”) recalls Joel 2:6.125 Though the first root is common enough, the word פָּארוּר is a rare and somewhat troublesome word. Several etymologies have been proposed. (1) פָּרוּר (“pot”). Combined with קִבֵּץ, the thought is assumed to be describing a reaction of terror. Much as one gathers blackness from the burned part of a pot, so terrified faces “gather blackness” (KJV).126 (2) פָּרַר (“break in pieces”). Due to great fear, all faces have gathered wrinkles (Ehrlich).127 (3) פַּאֲרוּר (“glow,” “red/crimson”). Faces glow with excitement due to the press of the fierce battle (KB).128 (4) פֵּאֵר (“beautify”). Combined with the verb קִבֵּץ the idea would be “to draw in beauty,” “to withdraw (healthy) color,” hence “grow pale” (NASB, NIV; S. R. Driver).129 On the whole the last alternative seems the simplest and has been followed in the translation above.130

Cathcart demonstrates the close connection of the last three lines of v. 10 with the thought of Isa. 13:7-8:

Both texts mention the melting of hearts.... In Nahum, there is mention of the trembling of the knees; in the Isaiah text, the feebleness of the hands. Anguish in the loins and the change of the colour of the face are found in both passages. For anguish in the loins, compare also Is. 21:3.131

Once again a connection between Isaiah and Nahum seems certain.

Nahum’s first description of Nineveh’s fall ends on a tragic but powerful note. Herbert Marks captures it well: “The description culminates in a magnificent cadence in which the repetition of ‘all’ enforces the note of finality, and the conversion of splendor to ruin is represented not in itself, but more powerfully by its effect on those who suffer it.”132

C. Application: The Discredited City
(2:11-13 [HB 2:12-14])

If the prophet’s own words were not evident in the preceding cries (vv. 9b-10), they surely come forward here. Contemplating the demise of arrogant Nineveh, Nahum utilizes a taunt song, a literary form that was common in the ancient Near East. As a taunt song it takes its place as a subtype of satire, the first of three such pieces directed against Nineveh (cf. 3:8-13; 3:14-19). The satirical tone is Juvenalian. Using an extended metaphor (or allegory), Nineveh is ironically compared to a lion’s den, now no longer the lair of an invincible predator or a den of refuge for its cubs but reduced to ashes. The point of the satirical taunt song is clear. Nineveh shall be judged for its selfishness, rapacity, and cruelty. Other literary features include rhetorical question, enjambment, and paronomasia (v. 11), chiasmus (v. 12), oratio variata and synecdoche (v. 13), and the employment of repetition and refrain: “behold” (v. 13; cf. 2:1; 3:5, 13), “I am against you” (v. 13; cf. 3:5), and the motif of the message/messenger (v. 13; cf. 2:1; 3:7, 19).


Where* is the dwelling place* of the lion*,

      the place* for the young lions*,

where the lion, the lioness* went,

      the lion cub, and none made (them) afraid*?

12The lion tore for the sake of his cubs*

      and strangled* for his lionesses;

yes, he filled his lair* with prey

      and his dens* with torn flesh.

13Behold*, I am against you—

      the declaration of Yahweh Sabaoth:

I will burn up her chariots in smoke*,

      and a sword will devour your young lions*;

I will cut off your prey from the earth,

      and the voice of your messengers*

      will be heard no more.

Exegesis and Exposition

The lion motif is particularly appropriate. History attests that Sennacherib compared himself to a lion,133 decorating his palace freely with sphinxlike lion statues. Other Assyrian kings referred to themselves as lions and adorned their palaces with various artistic representations of the lion. Reliefs of the Assyrian kings on the lion hunt appear frequently on the palace walls.

With the description of the demise and despoliation of the supposedly invincible city of Nineveh given and the notice of the plight of its citizenry completed, Nahum can now ask, “Where?” The mighty lion of the nations (Assyria) used to proceed at will from its impenetrable lair (Nineveh) to return its prey to its pride (the citizens of Nineveh). Where is all of that now? Once Nineveh bulged with the bounteous booty that her kings had brought within its walls. The annals of the Assyrian kings repeatedly report the ravenous rapacity of the Assyrian conquerors and the barbaric cruelty with which they acquired their ill-gotten gain. Thus Assyria’s great king Ashurbanipal boasts of his subjugation of Akkad:

As for those men ... I slit their mouths (v., tongues) and brought them low. The rest of the people, alive, by the colossi, between which they had cut down Sennacherib, the father of the father who begot me,—at that time, I cut down those people there, as an offering to his shade. Their dismembered bodies (lit. flesh) I fed to the dogs, swine, wolves, and eagles, to the birds of heaven and the fish of the deep.134

And in a campaign against Elam he reports:

At the command of Assur and Ishtar, I entered into its palaces and dwelt there amidst rejoicing. I opened his treasure-houses, wherein were heaped up the silver, gold, property and goods, which the former kings of Elam, down to (and including) the kings of these (present) days, had gathered and laid up, and into which no foe other than myself had ever brought his hand,—(these treasures) I carried out and counted as spoil.135

In the light of such brutality God’s pronouncement again is heard: “Behold, I am against you.” Such is the solemn utterance of the Lord of Hosts (Yahweh Sabaoth). This term (found about 260 times in the OT) declares God’s sovereignty not only over creation (Amos 4:13) but also over all nations and over earth’s history (Isa. 37:16). Although God had used Assyria as His agent to punish an unrepentant Israel, He could and would use still another army (who in turn will one day suffer God’s chastisement for its own sin, Jer. 50:18) to effect the just judgment of haughty Assyria (Zeph. 2:13-15), the very nation for whom a merciful God had earlier been so concerned (Jonah 4:2, 11). Ultimately Israel herself will triumph through her Lord of Hosts, who will rule everlastingly over all forces, heavenly and earthly alike (1 Sam. 17:45; Isa. 24:21-23; 34:1-10).

The results of the divine sentence for Nineveh are spelled out: The city will go up in smoke*, her citizens will be put to the sword, and her immense treasures will be carried off, never to be replenished. The voice of those messengers who carried the words and business of the Assyrian king to the far-flung provinces of the once mighty empire will be heard no more.

In v. 13, several of Nahum’s themes come temporarily to the surface before finding their final expression in chap. 3: “declares the LORD” (cf. 1:12 with 3:5), “against/concerning you” (cf. 1:14 with 3:5), “fire” (cf. 1:6; 2:4 with 3:13, 15), “devouring” (cf. 1:14-15 with 3:15), cruelty/wickedness (cf. 1:11 with 3:19), “no one/none” (cf. 1:14-15 with 3:6-7, 18-19), and the motif of the messenger/message (cf. 1:15 with 3:5, 19). Armerding’s observation is well taken:

This verse draws together the major motifs and vocabulary of Nahum’s prophecy: the Lord’s inexorable opposition to Nineveh; the destruction of its military resources; the role of “sword” and “fire” that “consume” the enemy; the cutting off of Nineveh and its “prey”; the termination of its cruelty, symbolized by the “young lions”; and the reversal of fortunes that awaits Assyria and Judah, exemplified in the fate of the “heralds.”136

Just as in this section, so Nahum’s first oracle (chap. 1) had ended with a pronouncement of judgment for Nineveh/Assyria but had included a message of hope for Judah as well (vv. 12-15). Nahum’s second oracle is not yet through, however, and before he adds a further note of good news (3:19) he will again consider the defeat and demise of Nineveh, detailing the reasons for the divine sentence (3:1-7, 8-19).

Additional Notes

2:11 (HB 2:12) † אַיֵּה (“where?”), besides its use as an interrogative particle requesting information, can be used, as here, to introduce a taunt (cf. Jer. 2:28). It was also commonly utilized in forming personal names (e.g., אִיּוֹב = áayya áabu(m), “Where Is the Father?” [= Job]).

מָעוֹן (“dwelling place”), while used of God’s habitation, whether in heaven (Deut. 26:15) or in the Temple (2 Chron. 36:15), can also be used, as here, for the lair of animals. In the latter instances the masc. noun is consistently used by the prophets to depict the haunt of desolate cities (e.g., Jer. 9:10; 10:22; 49:35; 51:37), but such is not the case with fem. forms (cf. Job 38:40; Amos 3:4).

מִרְעֶה (“pasture”) in the parallel line has met with considerable controversy. Because the reading מְעָרָה (“cave”; cf. BHS) would seem to make a more suitable parallel with the “dwelling place” (or den) of the first line, many modern translations have decided for such an emendation (NJB, NEB, RSV). The change requires simply a transposition of two letters. But the proposed alternative reading lacks textual support and would be ungrammatical due to the presence of the following masc. pronouns. Moreover, the proposed word does not appear in the OT in the sense of a den for animals. The MT should be retained—but in what sense? Some decide for the sense of “feeding place” (from the root רָעָה, “to feed”; e.g., Keil, NASB, NIV), others for the food grown there, hence “fodder” (Maier). מִרְעֶה, however, can designate not only a pasture but open country. Consequently the word may intend simply the district where the lion’s cave was found. The translation “place” is a contextual one that leaves the final decision open. In any case, Keil’s remarks remain valid: “The point of comparison is the predatory lust of its rulers and their warriors, who crushed the nations like lions, plundering their treasures, and bringing them together in Nineveh.”137

The several words for lion here seem intended to represent the whole family (or pride) of lions: אַרְיֵה (“lion”), לָבִיא (“lioness”), אַרְיֵה גּוּר (“lion cub”), and כְּפִיר (“young lion”). The ancient versions, however understand לָבִיא as an infinitive construct, apparently reading לָבוֹא from בּוֹא (“enter”). Accordingly some (Ehrlich, Haldar, Maier) take the MT as a hiphil infinitive construct form shortened from לְהָבִיא (“to bring”; cf. Jer. 27:7).

מַחֲרִיד וְאֵין (“none made [them] afraid”; “with nothing to fear” [NIV]): The phrase is reminiscent of the often repeated description of those undisturbed by danger, whether men (Mic. 4:4) or animals and birds (Deut. 28:6; Isa. 17:2; Jer. 7:33; Ezek. 34:28; Zeph. 3:13). The שָׁם ... אֲשֶׁר (“where ... there”) in the previous line is a relative clause introduced by a relative particle and closed by a resumptive adverb. The clause has locative force. The relative pronoun here betrays its Akkadian origin as a noun ( asŒru [construct asŒar], “place”; cf. Aramaic/Syriac אֲתַר/ áaŒ tar with secondary development into a locative relative “place where,” with further development in Hebrew as a general relative particle). A similar nominal origin and development has been suggested for Phoenician áe„sŒ from West Semitic ái‚sŒ, “man (who),” but this remains unproved. The Semitic languages also know of a double particle series to express the relative idea, the demonstrative/explicative particles * du and * tu, both of which are attested in the MT (particularly in older poetic material) as זוּ (e.g., Ex. 15:13) and שׁ (e.g., Num. 24:15).138 The final two lines of v. 11 provide a case of progressive enjambment.139

2:12 (HB 2:13) † גֹּרוֹתָיו (“his cubs”): גּוּר (“whelp”) and גֹּר (“lion cub”) are attested. Since masc. sing. Hebrew nouns frequently take fem. plurals, there is no need to emend the text to a masc. pl. as some (e.g., Duhm) have done.

מְחַנֵּק (“strangled”): Although it has been charged by some that the idea of lions strangling their prey is unrealistic,140 with the result that some such translation as “tore up” (NJB) has been substituted, the verb means “strangle” throughout the Semitic family of languages and is consistently so used in the OT. As Cathcart observes:

Lions do strangle their prey and we have excellent representations from the Near East of lions strangling their prey. Most impressive is a Phoenician ivory (c. 715 B.C.) in the British Museum which shows a lioness standing over a man with its left paw around his neck. Even older, on a shell, dating from the 3rd millennium B.C., and excavated at Lagash, there is a scene of a lion attacking a bull. The lion has its paw and foreleg right around the bull’s neck, and its teeth buried in the back of its neck.141

The root t£rp (“tear/rip open”) occurs three times in this verse (“tore,” “prey,” “torn flesh”), strategically placed in poetic parallelism and in chiasmus so as to emphasize the viciousness of the lion with regard to its prey. The usual distinction between the two words for prey ( טֶרֶף and טְרֵפָה) is that the latter word lays more stress on the torn condition of the victim.142

וּמְעֹנֹתָיו חֹרָיו (“his lairs/caves ... his dens”): The plurals here may indicate the change of location that a lion makes at times, or they may reflect popular speech dealing with general activities: (a) lion(s) bring(s) the prey into his (their) lair(s). In any case, Nineveh is still in view.

2:13 (HB 2:14) † הִנְנִי (lit. “Behold me”): Nahum uses the particle הִנֵּה several times at strategic points as a transitional device (cf. 1:15; 3:5, 13). This particle is often used to introduce divine pronouncements and to authenticate a prophet’s words.143 The phrase “I am against you” contains a 2d fem. sing. pronoun referring to Nineveh, the intended comparison in the allegory. It recurs with הִנְנִי in 3:5. The introductory particle is reinforced by the noun נְאֻם (“declaration of”; cf. NIV, “declares”) that so frequently is used to confirm the divine source of a prophet’s message (cf. Jer. 9:22; 23:31; Ezek. 20:3; Zech. 12:1).144

בֶּעָשָׁן (“in the smoke”), a form of zeugma (or synecdoche), stresses the burning of the vaunted Assyrian war chariots.145

כְפִירַיִךְ (“your young lions”): The metaphor of calling royalty, leaders, or warriors by animal names is common in both Ugaritic and Hebrew.146 The figure of devouring the prey (vv. 11-12) is continued here, but with image transfer: the young lions are now the prey devoured by the enemy’s sword. With the reintroduction of direct discussion with Nineveh, the poet returns to using a 2d fem. sing. suffix (cf. “against you” in line 1 of this verse), thus making a shift from the 3d fem. sing. suffix with “her chariot(s)” in the parallel line. Such cases of oratio variata (or enallage) are common in Semitic poetry (cf. Ps. 23) and often employed by the prophets (e.g., Isa. 1:29; Jer. 22:24; Mic. 7:19). Proposed emendations to “your chariots” (cf. BHS) are therefore unnecessary.147

מַלְאָכֵכֵה (“your messengers”): The MT is strange; one would expect מַלְאָכַיִךְ. The form in the text has been taken as a dialectal variant, an Aramaism, or unusual pronominal form, or has been understood as being derived from מְלָאכָה (“work”; cf. LXX, Pesh.). The poet’s use of the messenger/message motif to end each principal section gives assurance of the meaning of the term, even though the form remains somewhat of an enigma. Maier may be correct in viewing it as a unique form that is not without a reasonable basis:

There is an unusual latitude in the form of the nominal suffixes for the second person singular. If this person in the masculine may take the ending ־ֶכָה (Ps 139:5, with the verbal suffix counterpart ־כָה, Gen 27:7); if the second sing. fem. suffix may be ־ֵכִי (Jer 11:15, with the same form for the verbal suffix, Ps 103:4), or ־יְכִי (2 Kings 4:3), is it unreasonable to assume that מַלְאָכֵכֵה is a unique suffix of the second sing. fem., the gender and number required by the context?148

The Doom of Nineveh Described, Part Two
(Nahum 3:1-19)

With the completion of the first description of Nineveh’s doom, which has been capped by a taunt song castigating the discredited city (2:3-13), Nahum turns once again to developing the theme (2:1-2) of the section (2:1-3:19). The demise of Nineveh is rehearsed again (3:1-7), this time however underlining the reasons that necessitate such a devastation. Nahum will again build upon that description with another taunt song, which will occupy the greater portion of the third chapter (vv. 8-19) and flow in two movements. The first unit compares Nineveh’s situation to that of once-proud Thebes, which also fell despite its seeming impregnability (vv. 8-13); the second constitutes a stinging concluding condemnation of Nineveh itself (vv. 14-19). Since this chapter (like the preceding) forms a part of the second half of the book, the headings of the individual units will reflect the outline given in the Introduction.

D. Development: Second Description Of Nineveh’s Demise

Nahum writes his second description of Nineveh’s certain doom in the form of a woe oracle. The initial “woe” is a word drawn from a lamentation liturgy for the dead. As utilized by the prophet, while containing a prophetic declaration and description of the coming judgment, it also constitutes a formal denunciation of the doomed city. Woe oracles normally contain three elements: invective, criticism, and threat. Here these are arranged in chiasmus: invective (vv. 1, 7), threat (vv. 2-3, 5-6), criticism (v. 4). This betrays a deliberate design that imparts information for understanding the author’s intentions not only in the whole unit but also in the well-known crux interpretum at v. 4 (see Exegesis and Exposition). Other literary features in this section include merismus (v. 1), picturesque brevity (vv. 2, 3), alliteration and staircase parallelism (v. 4), metaphor (vv. 4, 5-6), paronomasia, oratio variata, enjambment, and refrain (v. 7).


Woe* to the city of blood,

      all of it a lie;

full of plunder*,

      it never lacks* prey*.

2The crack* of whips*

      and the rumble of wheels;

galloping horses*

      and jolting chariots*;

3charging calvalry*,

      flashing* swords,

      and gleaming* spears;

an abundance of slain

      and a multitude of corpses.

There is no end to the bodies;

      they stumble over the dead.

4(It is) because of* the numerous harlotries of the harlot, she who is graciously fair*,

      the mistress of sorceries*;

(it is) she who makes merchandise* of the nations by her harlotries,

      and peoples* by her sorceries.

5”Behold I am against you”—

      the declaration of Yahweh Sabaoth:

“I will lift* your skirt over your face,

      and I will show the nations your nakedness

      and kingdoms your shame.

6I will pelt you with filth*

      and make you a contemptuous* spectacle*.

7And it shall come to pass that all who see you

      will flee* from you and say,

‘Nineveh is ruined*;

      who will mourn* for her?’

Where shall I seek*

      comforters for you?”*

Exegesis and Exposition

In pronouncing his woe against Nineveh, Nahum begins with an invective that singles out Nineveh’s established reputation. Nineveh was, first of all, a city of blood.* Keil suggests that Nineveh is being accused of being a murderous city. Certainly Nineveh’s bloody activities are well documented. The extreme cruelties perpetrated by Ashurnasirpal II, Shalmaneser III, and Ashurbanipal are especially notorious. Among many examples the following may be cited:

I [Ashurnasirpal II] took the city, and 800 of their fighting men I put to the sword, and cut off their heads. Multitudes I captured alive, and the rest of them I burned with fire, and carried off their heavy spoil. I formed a pillar of the living and of heads over against his city gate, and 700 men I impaled on stakes over against their city gate. The city I destroyed, I devastated, and I turned it into a mound and ruin heap. Their young men and their maidens I burned in the fire.149

Like Adad I [Shalmaneser III] rained destruction upon them. With their blood I dyed [the mountain] like red wool.... His cities I turned to wastes. Arzashku, together with the cities of its neighborhood, I destroyed, I devastated, [I burned with fire]. Four (?) pyramids (pillars) of heads I erected in front of its gate. Some (of his people) I fastened alive into these pyramids, others I hung up on stakes around the pyramids.150

As for those men ... I [Ashurbanipal] slit their mouths (v., tongues) and brought them low. The rest of the people, alive, by the colossi, between which they had cut down Sennacherib, the father of the father who begot me,—at that time, I cut down those people there, as an offering to his shade. Their dismembered bodies (lit. flesh) I fed to the dogs, swine, wolves, and eagles, to the birds of heaven and the fish of the deep.151

Maier appropriately remarks:

The atrocious practice of cutting off hands and feet, ears and noses, gouging out eyes, lopping off heads and then binding them to vines or heaping them up before city gates; the utter fiendishness by which captives could be impaled or flayed alive through a process in which their skin was gradually and completely removed—this planned frightfulness systematically enforced by the “bloody city” was now to be avenged.152

Further, the city was characterized as being a place of total deceit; it was full of lies*—”all of it a lie.” The description depicts the Assyrians’ use of treachery and alluring platitudes to gain others’ loyalty. They also employed psychological warfare, couching their words in false promises and outright lies to gain the submission of enemy cities in times of siege (cf. 2 Kings 18:28-32).153 Their idolatry, arrogant pride (cf. Zeph. 2:15), and misrepresentation of God Himself (2 Kings 19:21-27) were particularly loathsome. Nineveh’s ravenous appetite for robbery and plunder is also mentioned, a trait that harks back to the preceding taunt song and the figure of Nineveh as a lion’s den to which her ill-gotten prey was taken. In every way, then, Nineveh was known to all as a wicked city (cf. Jonah 1:2).

In vv. 2-3 Nahum moves on to a vivid description of the coming battle. Whether Nahum is reporting what he has seen in a vision or merely himself envisions the future scene, his portrayal is done with picturesque brevity that utilizes a number of vivid images. Michael Travers puts it well:

The writer portrays a number of graphic images of the impending military destruction. In the first image, whips crack, wheels clatter, horses gallop, and chariots jolt (3:2). This opening image draws the reader’s attention to the machines of war, the horses and chariots; the poet uses this picture to heighten the terror which he shows most graphically in the next image.154

Once again a poignant portrait of the battle scene and its din is drawn: the cracking whip that signals the chariots’ movement, the rumble of the chariots together with the pounding of the horses’ hoofs, the advance of cavalry and infantry, the battle engagement itself. And then, ever so quickly, it is over, and all the commotion is followed by a scene of deafening silence, with the slain* strewn across the battle area. It is a macabre and melancholy setting.

So many have lost their lives—and for what? Because an unalterably proud, selfish, and unholy people had come to the time of divine judgment. She who had brought havoc and ruin to so much of the ancient Near East would now face death and destruction. Here again a notable crux occurs. Does the statement (v. 4) relative to Nineveh’s harlotry explain the death and destruction described in the previous verses, or does it initiate the following declaration of God’s judgment against the city? The problem is heightened in that 3:4 is not an independent sentence and therefore would normally need to be related grammatically either with what precedes or with what follows.

Once more (cf. 2:4) the problem is solved by viewing this verse as a hinge binding two portions together with vividness and smoothness of succession. That the verse is so constructed may be noted in the use of the subunit terminator áe‚n qe„s£eh (“there is no end”; NIV “without number”) in v. 3, and the picking up of the image of harlotry in what follows. The transitional nature of the hinge verse may be further seen in the employment of a first-slot preposition to introduce new, yet related, material (cf. 1:11). Perhaps the conclusive fact is that, as indicated at the beginning of this section, the customary three elements of woe oracles are arranged chiastically so that the poet’s criticism of Nineveh (v. 4) is located centrally between the invective (vv. 1, 7) and the threat (vv. 2-3, 5-6).

Accordingly the reader is presented with a statement related to what precedes and anticipating/initiating the discussion that follows. There is thus a smooth transition from one subunit to another, the mention of Nineveh’s harlotry and witchcraft accounting for the grisly death scene that precedes, while providing the critical basis for the Lord’s judicial pronouncement that follows.

The prophet reveals the causes of Nineveh’s condemnation for which God’s judgment must inevitably come. Nineveh was a city of beauty and splendor. It was adorned with temples, palaces, parks, a botanical garden, and even a zoo. It was guarded by massive fortifications and walls. Access to the well-laid-out cosmopolitan center with its broad streets was gained via 15 gates protected by colossal stone bulls. Fresh water was brought into the city by means of a system of dams and an aqueduct. It was truly a splendid and sophisticated metropolis, but it had gained its wealth and grandeur by making merchandise of other nations through either military might or economic exploitation. Further, it had enslaved many with its sociopolitical seductions, most of which were connected with its religious harlotry. Armerding observes:

Nineveh is here seen as using both immoral attractions (the city was a center of the cult of Ishtar—herself represented as a harlot) and sorcery (Assyrian society was dominated by magic arts; IDB, 1:283-87) as a means to enslave others. The metaphor is very close to the reality.155

Truly, then, Nineveh/Assyria was a “mistress of sorceries.”

Once again (cf. 2:13) the prophet turns to threat in a declaration of divine judgment befitting the harlot Nineveh. Yahweh of Hosts Himself was against her (cf. 2:13) and would mete out a punishment corresponding to her conduct. In a simile depicting Nineveh as a harlot, Nahum declares that Nineveh, like any prostitute, will be exposed to public shame (cf. Hos. 2:3; Ezek. 16:37) by having the borders of her garment thrown violently over her face (cf. Jer. 13:26), thus fully revealing her nakedness. Her seemingly impregnable defenses will be thrown down and her substance exposed to all. A helpless Nineveh, a city that had so disgraced others, will herself be put to open shame.

Further, Nineveh will be pelted with filth. The word translated “filth” denotes that which is detested. A strong word, it is usually reserved for contexts dealing with aberrations connected with pagan worship. The word carries with it the idea of the loathing all such detestable practices produce; the thought is that despoiled Nineveh will be treated as a detested and abominable thing. Condemned for her abhorrent idolatrous worship, a thing of incredible filth in God’s sight, she is treated as an object of revulsion by having dirt heaped upon her. It is an action denoting intense disrespect (2 Sam. 16:13; cf. Mal. 2:3). The image is heightened by the further statement that Nineveh would be treated contemptuously, being made a spectacle in the sight of the nations.

The woe reaches its climax with a return to invective. It takes the form of a sarcastic appraisal of Nineveh’s hopeless plight: Nineveh is destroyed, destitute, devoid of mourners. The verse begins with a striking play on words. Nahum has prophesied that Nineveh will become a sorry sight, a horrendous spectacle ( ro„'i‚, v. 6); he reports now (v. 7) that “all who see you” ( ro„áayik) will flee from ruined Nineveh in disgust. Those who flee, bearing the news of a devastated Nineveh, will proclaim not only the city’s demise but that they can find for her neither mourners nor comforters.*

Once again Nahum ends a section or subsection with the motif of a message/messenger (cf. 1:15; 2:13; see 3:18-19), but this time with the added feature of a literary foil: a play on the word for comfort and the prophet’s name. Whereas Judah/Jerusalem had its Nahum ( nah£u‚m), Assyria/Nineveh could boast no comforters ( meŒnah£aŒmi‚m) whatever.

Additional Notes

3:1הוֹי (“woe”): This interjection is a strong word used with precision by the prophets. Zobel’s analysis leads him to point out that

fundamentally, ho‚y forms part of laments for the dead; in the prophetic literature it occurs as an element of prophetic invective. There is a formal similarity between the use of ho‚y in laments for the dead and its use in invective: in both contexts it is followed by a nominal construction. In invective, however, these nominal forms do not define the relationship of the mourner to the subject of his lament as they do in laments for the dead. They describe instead the reprehensible conduct of men toward Yahweh, thus motivating the threat that follows (Isa. 1:4; 5:8, 11; 18:1; 28:1; 45:9, 10; Amos 6:1; Mic. 2:1; Nah. 3:1; Zeph. 2:5; 3:1).156

הוֹי normally introduces a new section, frequently as poetic anacrusis.

עִיר־דָּמִים (“city of blood”; cf. Ezek. 22:2; 24:6, 9): The plural may be explained as indicating an abstract idea, “bloodshed,” or the result of an action involving the matters at hand, “blood that is shed.”157

כַּחַשׁ כֻּלָּהּ (“all of it a lie”): The basic idea is that of total falsehood; Nineveh is “full of lies” (NIV). The thought of absolute falsehood is established by such passages as Ps. 59:13; Hos. 7:3; 10:13; 12:1. The Assyrian practice of using deception as a psychological tool to gain the submission of a besieged city can be illustrated from the archives of Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 B.C.), as pointed out by H. W. F. Saggs, who finds in all of this an interesting parallel with Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem in 701 B.C. (cf. 2 Kings 18:15-19:37):

On the 28th we came to Babylon. We stood in front of the Marduk gate. We negotiated with the Babylonian ruler [who at that time was a Chaldaean usurper named Ukin-zerl.... A servant of Ukin-zer the Chaldaean was at his side. They came out with the Babylonian citizens and were standing in front of the gate. We spoke in these terms to the Babylonian citizens: “Why should you act hostilely to us for the sake of them? ... Let Babylon agree [to surrender(?)]. I am coming to Babylon to confirm your citizen-privileges.” We spoke many words with them.... They would not agree. They would not come out; they would not talk with us. They kept sending us messages. We said to them: “Open the great gate; let us enter Babylon.”158

פֶּרֶק (“plunder”) and טֶרֶף (“prey”; cf. NIV “victims”) may as Cathcart suggests be chiastically placed and may together form a sort of merismus.159 One could argue, however, that there is here, rather, an enveloping between lines 1 and 4, with lines 2 and 3 being a case of enjambment via asyndeton and הוֹי viewed as anacrusis:



City of blood,

עִיר דּמִים

All of it with deceit

כֻּלָּה כַּתַשׁ

(and) plunder filled;

פֶּרֶק מְלֵאָה

(Its) prey does not depart.

לֹא יָמִישׁ טָרֶף

יָמִישׁ לֹא (“lacks”; lit. “does not depart”): Although the verb is hiphil, the masc. sing. subject noun that follows and with which it agrees makes it intransitive. Were the verb to be viewed as transitive with the following noun as its object, the verb would need to be fem. so as to agree with עִיר (“city”). The translation for all of v. 1 given at the beginning of this section follows the usual syntactic arrangement of modern English versions (NIV, NASB).

3:2-3 The short phraseology that makes up vv. 2-3 yields a dramatic effect. The verses are characterized by a staccato style and filled with words that take on an almost onomatopoeic quality. It is a fine example of picturesque brevity. There is also progression in the individual lines that compose the passage, providing a strong touch of realism.

3:2שׁוֹט (“whip”) is rendered as a pl. in LXX (cf. NIV). While the MT noun here and in the following phrases is sing., it is doubtless a collective sing. and thus translated as a pl. What happens with individual battle chariots is reproduced by the whole chariot force.

קוֹל (“crack,” “sound”; with רַעַשׁ = “rumble”), like some of the words in the description that follows (e.g., רָקַד, לֵהַב), is found in a similar martial context in Joel 2:5. Whereas Joel speaks of the horse of the chariot, Nahum focuses on the rumbling of the chariot wheels. Although רַעַשׁ (“shake”; with קוֹל = “rumble”) is at times used for the din of battle (Isa. 9:4; Jer. 10:22), it is often used for the shaking of the earth (Amos 1:1; cf. the verbal root in Judg. 5:4; Pss. 68:8 [HB 68:9]; 77:18 [HB 77:19]; 2 Sam. 22:8). Together with קוֹל here, the translation “rumble” best serves to reproduce the force of the sound.

מְרַקֵּדָה וּמֶרְכָּבָה (“and jolting chariots”) exhibits both alliteration and assonance. The verb ra„qad is related to Akkadian raqa„„du (“leap/skip”; cf. also Ugaritic rqdm, “dancers”; Arabic raqada, “leap”). The Assyrian battle chariot was feared far and wide. Sennacherib called his private war chariot “The Vanquisher of the Wicked and Evil” ( sa„pinat raggi u s£e„ni) and also “The Vanquisher of the Enemy” ( sa„pinat za„'iri).160 דהר (“galloping”) in the previous line occurs also in Judg. 5:22.161

3:3 פָּרָשׁ (“horse”) again provides a literary correspondence with Joel (cf. Joel 2:4). Although the term can also mean “horseman,” together with the following participle the resultant phrase is probably best rendered, with the NIV, “charging cavalry.”162

לַהַב (“flashing” [sword]; lit. “flame”) and בָּרָק (“gleaming” [spear]; lit. “lightning”) provide two picturesque images of awesome battle weapons, reflecting the sunlight in their wielders’ hands. Both are used frequently in military contexts under various figures (cf. Deut. 32:41; Judg. 3:22; Job 39:23; Ezek. 21:15; Joel 2:5; Nah. 2:4 [HB 2:5]; Hab. 3:11).

The next four lines contain three terms for the bodies of those slain in battle: חָלָל (“slain”), פֶּגֶר (“corpse”), גְּוִיָּה (“dead body,” “cadaver”). One is reminded of the frequent Assyrian boast of leaving behind after the battle a host of dead bodies. For example Ashurnasirpal reports,

With the masses of my troops and by my furious battle onset I stormed, I captured the city; 600 of their warriors I put to the sword; 3,000 captives I burned with fire; I did not leave a single one among them alive to serve as a hostage. Hulai, their governor, I captured alive. Their corpses I formed into pillars; their young men and maidens I burned in the fire. Hulai, their governor, I flayed; his skin I spread upon the wall of the city of Damdamusa; the city I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire.163

The repetition of the last word and the presence of the last phrase have drawn criticism. Thus J. M. P. Smith says,

It is probable that these words are a marginal note which has found its way into the text; they may have been intended as a cross-reference to 26, or they may be only a variant of the preceding clause. That they do not belong here appears not only from the fact that they are superfluous in the poetic form, but also from the additional fact that they introduce a verb for the first and only time into a series of phrases thrown off in ejaculatory fashion one after the other, like a series of stereopticon views.164

Nahum, however, often uses repetition for effect (cf. 2:3, 9 [HB 2:4, 10]), even in this unit (vv. 2, 4). Moreover, he has already used a verbal sentence in this section (v. 1). Indeed, the description of the battle for Nineveh (vv. 2-3) is both opened and closed by repetition. Further, the shift from the staccatolike phrases of the previous nine lines to a nonverbal and a verbal sentence in the two lines involving the repetition of גְּוִיָּה provides climactic force to the whole scene. Nahum’s readers are thus presented with a somber view of a ghastly sight. The employment of the verb כָּשַׁל (“stumble”) provides a literary echo of the description in 2:5 (HB 2:6). In the previous account the attacking soldiers stumbled in their haste to reach the city wall; here they stumble over the defenders’ slain bodies. A further literary connection with chap. 2 may be seen in the phrase לְ קֵצֶה אֵין (“there is no end to”; 2:9 [HB 2:10]).

3:4מֵרֹב (“[it is] because of”): The causal use of מִן is attested amply in the OT (e.g., Ex. 2:23; Deut. 7:7; 2 Sam. 3:11; Isa. 43:4; Zech. 2:8). “Harlotry” is often used figuratively in a religious sense, particularly of the apostasy of God’s covenant nation. Noteworthy is the case of Hosea’s relationship to Gomer as a symbol of God’s relation with Israel (Hos. 1:2; 2:6, 15 [HB 2:4, 13]). Some texts appear to use the figure in a commerical sense (e.g., Isa. 23:16-17; Mic. 1:7). Perhaps both ideas are latent here, although the parallel with כְּשָׁפִים (“sorceries”) would seem to indicate that Nahum’s chief complaint against Nineveh is for its spiritual atrocities. Perhaps, as J. M. P. Smith cautions, we should not attempt to isolate any one specific feature of Nineveh’s international harlotry but rather affirm that “using all of her manifold and multiform attractions, she has succeeded in bringing nations into subjection, only to use them for the furtherance of her own selfish ends.”165 Maier adds: “As a lewd woman deceitfully displays her charms, uses enticements to deceive and ruin men, so Assyria has beguiled nations and lured them to their downfall.”166

The problem of the grammatical relationship of the full phrase is resolved in the LXX by including it with v. 3 and then beginning a new sentence with a vocative—”O comely harlot” (v. 4)—that continues into v. 5, which contains the apodosis, “Behold, I am against you.” As suggested in the Exegesis and Exposition, the solution to the grammatical relationship of v. 4 may well lie in treating it as a transitional hinge composed of an independent sentence with elided subject/conclusion (aposiopesis).167 The difficulty of determining the precise syntactical relationship of v. 4 is doubtless the cause for some modern renderings. For example, La Sainte Bible translates the MT as “C’est à cause des” rather than utilizing the more familiar comparative causal particle parce que whether in postpositive (e.g., Jer. 14:4, 5, 6) or initial (e.g., John 20:29) position.

חֵן טוֹבַת (“graciously fair”; lit. “good of grace”): The phrase is constructed as an attributive genitive and is descriptive of Nineveh. The following phrase כְּשָׁפִים בַּעֲלַת (“mistress of sorceries”) makes an interesting contrast with Nahum’s earlier חֵמָה בַּעַל (“lord of wrath,” 1:2) as a description of Yahweh. Cathcart calls attention to the designation of the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28:7) as אוֹב בַּעֲלַת (“medium”) and of the Canaanite Anat as bàlt mlk (“mistress of kingship”), bàlt drkt (“mistress of dominion”), and bàlt sŒmm rmm (“mistress of the high heavens”). Nineveh is the enchantress par excellence.

הַמֹּכֶרֶת (“she who makes merchandise”; lit. “who sells”) has been rejected by many expositors either as unsatisfactory or as a gloss. Cathcart points out that wherever this verb is constructed with the following בּ plus a noun, as here, it usually means “sell for” (cf. Ps. 44:12 [HB 44:13]; Joel 3:3 [HB 4:3]; Amos 2:6). Accordingly he follows M. Dahood in repointing the form as hammukkeret (hophal fem. sing. participle from נָכַר, “know”), translating “who is known by.”168 The simplest solution, however, is to retain the MT but to understand the verb in the sense of “make merchandise of” (cf. Akkadian maka„ru, “use in business”). Nineveh is thus described as “she who makes merchandise of the nations” by her numerous harlotries and sorceries. Thus construed, it is another picture of Nineveh’s selfish and cruel exploitation.

מִשְׁפָּתוֹת (“peoples”; lit. “families”): The word is often used in a sense wider than the English term, meaning “clan,” “kindred.” In Josh. 7:16-18 it designates one of the clans of the tribe of Judah. BDB suggests that it also can refer to still smaller subdivisions. At times it forms a subunit of the terms גּוֹיִם (“nations,” Ps. 22:27 [HB 22:28]) and עַמִּים (“peoples,” Ps. 96:7) or even appears as a parallel term to גּוֹיִם (Jer. 10:25; Ezek. 20:32). Therefore, the noun can refer to familial relations at several levels or have a still wider use (cf. Gen. 12:3; 28:14; Zech. 14:17). But, since in cases where מִשְׁפָּחָה occurs in parallel with גּוֹיִם it always is found in the second of the two parallel members, perhaps these cases indicate intensification by diminution.169 If so, such situations may actually intend a smaller rather than a larger unit. Nahum, then, may mean here both nations and the peoples that compose them—perhaps, even as H. J. Austel suggests, those with strong blood ties.170

3:5 For the statement “Behold I am against you,” see the note at 2:13.

וְגִלֵּיתִי (“and I will lift/uncover”): The verb means basically “uncover” but is used in a wide variety of contexts and displays many nuances. In a context similar to this one where, as here, the word “skirt” is used, the verb תָשַׂף (“make bare,” “expose”) is employed (Jer. 13:26-27), which may cast light on the meaning here (cf. also Jer. 13:22). The use of either verb makes it possible that “skirt” is used euphemistically for what is otherwise concealed (cf. LXX τὰ ὀπίσω σου, “your backward parts”; Vg pudenda tua, “your shameful parts”), the whole phrase thus designating the exposure of one’s private parts. The literal translation given at the beginning of the section makes perfect sense. In any case, the violent action contemplated here leaves its recipients with a great sense of shame. Such actions were often applied as punishment for prostitution (cf. Jer. 13:22, 26-27; Ezek. 16:37-39; 23:10, 29; Hos. 2:3, 9-10 [HB 2:5, 11-12]). Several scholars have followed the lead of D. R. Hillers in seeing a relation between the biblical data cited here and the curse pronounced in an Aramaic inscription of Sefîre: “[And just as] a [ha]r[lot is stripped naked], so may the wives of Matî’’el be stripped naked, and the wives of his offspring and the wives of [his] no[bles].”171 The extended figure in the parallel lines shows a progressive heightening of the thought, thus providing an intensification of the theme.

3:6שִׁקֻּצִים (“filth”) is used here either as a plural of intensification or to indicate an abstraction.172

נָבַל (lit. “be foolish”) means in the piel “treat as a fool,” hence “treat contemptuously.” כְּרֹאִי (“as a spectacle”) has occasioned some controversy. The proposed noun רֳאִי (“seeing”) seldom occurs elsewhere in the OT (all cases may, perhaps, be explained as participles in the genitive case) and comes from the root רָאָה (“see”). Literally translated, the line would read something like “I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle” (thus NIV). The translation suggested at the beginning of this section treats the two verbs ( נָבַל and שִׂים) as hendiadys: “and make you a contemptible spectacle.” Verse 6 continues to heighten the effect: Nineveh will be treated as that which is detestable, as an utter disgrace and a public spectacle. Nahum plays on the root רָאָה in these verses: וְהַרְאֵיתִי (“and I will show,” v. 5), כְּרֹאִי (“as a spectacle,” v. 6), דֹאַיִךְ (“who see you,” v. 7).

3:7יִדּוֹד (“will flee”): Although one might expect a suffix-conjugation verb after וְהָיָה (“and it shall come to pass”), the prefix conjugation is common enough.173 The Greek tradition renders the MT by such verbs as ἀποπηδήσεται (“will leap away”), καταβήσεται (“will descend”), and ἀναχωρήσει (“will draw back”), suggesting uncertainty in the exemplar or lack of understanding of the root.

שָׁדְּדָה (“ruined/laid waste”): A pual perfect from שָׁדַד (“deal violently with”), the verb is related to the Akkadian sŒada„du (“devastate”).174

יָנוּד מִי (“who will mourn?”): The verb נוּד means basically “move to and fro,” “wander.” In contexts of sadness it is used for shaking the head in grief. Its employment here forms a word and sound play with the previous יִדּוֹד. Thus a shaking or fluttering movement can be seen in both words. As for sound play, men may “shake loose” ( yiddo‚d) from Nineveh (i.e., flee), but they will not shake the head in grief ( ya„nu‚d) for it (i.e., mourn). The poet intentionally heaps up the letters d and n, each occurring some five times in this verse.

אֲבַקֵּשׁ (“shall I seek”): This verb lays stress on individual initiative in seeking persons or things and displays a wide variety of nuances depending on the object sought or the emphasis of the context (e.g., “seek/seek out,” “search for,” “long for”; also “desire,” “ask,” “demand,” etc.).175 The most common significance of the root (“seek”) is the best meaning here.

מְנַחֲמִים (“comforters”): Grieving and comforting naturally occur together (cf. Job 2:11; Isa. 51:19; Jer. 15:5). The ancient versions read a singular here, perhaps taking the MT plural as an abstract noun (“comfort/consolation”).

לָךְ (“for you”): The form is frequently emended to 3d fem. sing. לָהּ (“to her”) so as to agree with the previous line. The MT can be defended, however, on the grounds that the shift in persons may represent a change from the fleeing exiles’ words ( לָהּ) to Nahum’s own words ( לָךְ). Whether such is the prophet’s intention, such shifts in gender or person (enallage or oratio variata; cf. 2:13) are common in poetry and prophetic discourse.176

E. Application: The Defenseless Citadel (3:8-19)

With his woeful description of Nineveh’s destruction completed, Nahum once again uses a taunt song to depict Nineveh’s dire plight. The section flows in two movements. The first, opening with a rhetorical question, reminds Nineveh that she is no more secure than once-proud Thebes, which also fell. Rather, her allegedly impregnable defenses will fall as easily as ripe figs shaken from the tree by the eater, and her most virile champions will prove to be little more than helpless women (vv. 8-13). In the second portion the prophet ironically ridicules Nineveh’s defenders, urging them to make all necessary preparations. It will be to no avail, for her protectors will be shown to be inept at best, deserters at worst. In the end, the message of her fall will be rehearsed to a rejoicing mankind (vv. 14-19).

Both halves of the taunt, like the taunt song in 2:11-13, are splendid examples of satire. Both contain a specific object of satirical attack: Assyria/Nineveh (vv. 8, 19); both provide a vehicle for carrying forward the satire: portraiture (vv. 8-10), irony (vv. 14, 15), simile (vv. 15-17), and metaphor (vv. 18, 19); both have a satirical tone: Juvenalian attack (vv. 11, 13) and sarcasm (vv. 13, 14-19); and both reveal a distinct trait that merits correction: Nineveh’s pride as seen in her trust in her vaunted defenses (vv. 11-13) and Nineveh’s haughtiness as evidenced in her disdainful cruelty toward others (v. 19). Other literary features in this section include alliteration and assonance (vv. 8, 10, 11, 18), rhetorical question (vv. 8, 19), synecdoche (v. 13), staircase parallelism accompanied by hyperbole (v. 15), enjambment (vv. 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19), oratio variata (v. 9), and refrain (v. 19).

1. A Comparison Of Nineveh and Thebes (3:8-13)

Are you better than Thebes*

      that sat by the Nile*,

      with water surrounding her,

whose (outer) wall* was the sea,

      with water her rampart*?

9Cush and Egypt were her boundless*


Put and Libya were among your helpers*.

10Yet she went into exile*,

      she went into captivity;

yet her infants were dashed to pieces*

      at the head of every street;

they cast lots for her nobles*,

      and all her leading men* were bound in chains.

11You too* will become drunk*,

      you will go into hiding*;

you too will seek refuge* from the enemy.

12All your fortresses* are fig trees

      with* first-ripe fruit;

if they are shaken, they fall

      into the mouth of the eater*.

13Behold*, your troops* in your midst are women;

      to your enemies* the gates of your city* are wide open,

      (for) fire consumes your bars.

Exegesis and Exposition

Thebes was the illustrious and time-honored capital of Egypt. Situated on both sides of the Nile in Upper Egypt, it achieved its greatest fame as the political, religious, and cultural center of Egypt’s great New Kingdom dynasties (18-20). Its former greatness is still attested by such impressive ruins as Karnak, Luxor, and Medinet Habu, so that Armerding justifiably observes: “Its temples and palaces are said to have found no equal in antiquity, and they are still regarded by some as the mightiest ruins of ancient civilization to be found anywhere in the world.”177

Thebes was still a thriving metropolis in the waning days of Egypt’s twenty-fifth (Nubian) dynasty (c. 751-656 B.C.), even though the dynastic capital appears to have been situated farther north in Memphis. After Esarhaddon of Assyria defeated Pharaoh Taharqa (690-664 B.C.) at Memphis in 671 B.C., the final king of the dynasty, Tanwetamani (664-656 B.C.), eventually abandoned Egypt in the wake of the advance of Ashurbanipal. This Assyrian king conquered Thebes in 663 B.C., taking vast plunder and leaving behind a client kingdom that would ultimately develop into Egypt’s last great flourishing kingdom, the twenty-sixth (Saite) dynasty.

Before Ashurbanipal’s victory, Thebes had seemed unconquerable. Surrounded by a strong defensive wall and a water system that included lakes, moats, canals, and the Nile, Thebes had been able to boast of the help of not only all Egypt but also its seventh-century allies: Sudanese Cush, Put (perhaps the fabled land of Punt in coastal Somaliland), and Libya. None of these, however, was to prove effective in protecting Thebes. Indeed, none of them supplied a source of strength for Thebes at all.

In point of fact Egyptian and Libyan relations were always somewhat tenuous, and in the future (c. 568 B.C.) a falling out between these allies would spell the end of the twenty-sixth-dynasty Pharaoh Hophra. Jeremiah (Jer. 46:9-10) likewise prophesied that Egypt’s allies—Cush, Put, and Libya—would be no deterrent to defeat in the day of the Lord’s judgment against Egypt.

Moreover, at the crucial hour, Tanwetamani so feared the power and wealth of Ashurbanipal that he left Thebes to its fate and fled for his life to the safety of the more inaccessible haunts of his Nubian homeland. Assurbanipal goes on to report:

That city (i.e. Ni’) my hands captured in its entirety,—with the aid of Assur and Ishtar. Silver, gold, precious stones, the goods of his palace, all there was, brightly colored and linen garments, great horses, the people, male and female, two tall obelisks, made of shining electrum ( ahale‚), whose weight was 2,500 talents, (and) which stood by the gate of the temple, I removed from their positions and carried them off to Assyria. Heavy plunder, and countless, I carried away from Ni’. Against Egypt and Ethiopia I waged bitter warfare and established my might.178

The scriptural account adds that the fallen city experienced the customary fate of captured cities: Those who were not killed were captured, and many were exiled; its nobility were enslaved, most via the casting of lots,* and its infants* were cruelly dashed to pieces at prominent places in the streets. All of this was designed to strike terror into the hearts of those the conquerors left behind. Thus was once mighty Thebes taken and its surviving inhabitants either exiled or reduced to captivity.

Although Tanwetamani kept up the claim of being pharaoh of Egypt after Ashurbanipal’s departure, he did not return there but retired to his Nubian capital at Napata where he died (c. 653 B.C.). With Ashurbanipal’s victory, the installation of an Assyrian client kingdom, and the death of Tanutamun, Nubia’s experiment in northward imperialism was over. Historical notices of contacts between the two nations cease except for brief mentions of Egyptian campaigns against Nubia in the early years of Psamtik I (655-610 B.C.) and the later years of his grandson Psamtik II (594-588 B.C.).179

If, as the Assyrians themselves knew full well, great Thebes, despite all of her natural defenses and vast network of allies, had not escaped such ignominy, could Nineveh expect to do better? The answer is a resounding negative. Nineveh, like Thebes, would know the terror of all-out attack. Nahum prophesies that Nineveh “will become drunk.” The stupefying effect of intoxicating drink is often applied figuratively to threats of military defeat (e.g., Jer. 25:27; Lam. 4:21; Ezek. 23:33; Hab. 2:16). At such times the military and civilian personnel in a besieged city often resort to drunkenness. Accordingly, because the Assyrians were well known for their drinking habits, it comes as no surprise to learn that an early tradition (preserved in Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historia 2.24-27) records that the smug and debased Assyrians feasted and became drunk on the very night of the city’s fall. Whether Nahum’s words are intended to be taken figuratively or literally, the fact remains that Nineveh was to know even more fully than Thebes full and certain destruction before a besieging army. Tottering and reeling before the enemy, the Ninevites, whether those left in the city or those in headlong flight, would attempt to hide themselves in places of secure refuge.

Verses 12-13 depict the hopelessness of Nineveh’s defensive measures. Nahum blends simile and metaphor to point out that the city’s massive fortifications would crumble as readily before the eager attackers as first-ripe figs fall into the mouths of those who shake the trees. Further, its famed defenders would prove to be no more successful in protecting the city than would untrained and weak women.* Although some ancient traditions report a strong measure of degenerate effeminacy among the Assyrian leadership in the closing days of the empire, Nahum’s words emphasize the relative weakness of the doomed defenders (cf. Isa. 19:16; Jer. 50:37; 51:30). The main point is that neither defenses nor defenders would be effective in the face of the coming onslaught.

The idea of a consuming fire in the last line of v. 13 is, as Armerding properly points out, a familiar key word for Nahum (cf. 1:10; 2:13; 3:15). One is reminded of the similar phraseology in the Phoenician Kilamuwa Inscription: “And I was in the hands of the kings like a fire that eats the beard and (like) a fire that eats the hand.”180 The burning of captured cities (Josh. 6:24; Judg. 18:27) and their gates (Neh. 1:3; 2:3, 13, 17) is widely attested in the records of the ancient Near East. An interesting parallel to vv. 11-13 occurs in connection with Ashurbanipal’s campaign against his rebellious brother Shamash-shum-ukin, in which mention is made of bars to the city gate, the term “my enemy” with regard to the flight of the citizens of Babylon, and the use of fire in punishing the foe.181 With fire having consumed the (bars of the) gates (“bars” being used synecdochically for the whole gate), entrance to the city would be easily gained. The addition of this line asyndetically gives a dramatic climax to the unit.182

Additional Notes

3:8אָמוֹן נֹא ( No„á áa„mo‚n, “City of Amun,” i.e., Thebes): The Assyrians knew the city as Ni’u (Amarna Ni‚), and the Greeks called it Διὸς Πόλις (“Divine City”). In Egypt itself it was known as n’iwt rst (“Southern City”) or as simply n’iwt (“The City”). Accordingly Ezekiel (Ezek. 30:14-16) can also call it just No„‘. Amun (Egyptian ‘Imn) rose to prominence in Egypt’s twelfth dynasty and, after subsequently being assimilated with the sun-god Re„à, became the principal national deity Amun- Re„à, “king of the gods,” patron deity during the New Kingdom era (c. 1570-1085 B.C.).

יְאֹרִים: The root appears to be Egyptian (‘itrw, “river”). In the OT it is most often utilized to designate the Nile (e.g., Ex. 1:22) and/or its arms/canals (e.g., Isa. 19:6).183 The plural here is generally taken to refer to the Nile’s canals around Thebes, although some suggest that the form is a plural of majesty. The former understanding seems more appropriate and is supported by the line that follows: “(with) water around it.” This line may be viewed as a case of periodic enjambment (cf. NIV) or as a nominal sentence (so Maier), introducing the succeeding two lines.

חוֹמָתָהּ ... חֵיל (“[outer] wall ... her rampart”): Cathcart made a good case for translating these words as “outer wall” and “ramparts” and for reading מַיִם (“water”) for the MT מִיָּם (“from [the] sea/river”). His suggestions have been followed here. Thebes counted heavily on its watery position for its defense. Cathcart goes on to cite R. Berger’s comparison of these lines with an inscription from Esarhaddon that reads:


sŒa du„ra„nu„sŒunu ta‚mtumma

whose walls are the sea and


edu‚ salh¬u„sŒun

whose rampart is the high water.

Those who follow the MT in reading מִיָּם suggest that the intent of the text is to indicate either substantially the same idea as the proposed emendation—that is, that the wall consisted of the sea itself (so Armerding, Keil)—or that מִן (“from”) prefixed to “sea/river” denotes origin or direction, thus “arising out of the sea” (Maier). יָם, generally translated “sea,” can at times have a wider semantic range, as when referring to the Euphrates River (Isa. 27:1; Jer. 51:36) or to the famed place of the Israelite crossing, יַם־סוּף (“Sea of Reeds,” “Red Sea”), probably one of Egypt’s eastern lakes.184 The suffix in חוֹמָתָהּ functions as a double-duty suffix, hence “(her) outer wall ... her rampart.”

3:9עָצְמָה (“her strength”): The form is probably to be understood as the masc. sing. noun עֶצֶם with the 3d fem. sing. suffix. Thus the suffix is written without mappiq as is often the case before following soft sounds.185

†The NIV is doubtless correct in translating Nahum’s oft-used phrase קֵצֶה וְאֵין (lit. “and there is no end”) as an adjective, “boundless” (or “limitless/immeasurable”).

בְּעֶזְרָתֵךְ (“among your helpers”) may have been placed last in its line by Nahum so as to serve as a bookend to עָצְמָה. If so, Nahum has once again employed oratio variata. Cathcart, having noted a relation between this verse and Ezek. 27:10, at first suggested that עֶזְרָה is derived from a second root related to the Ugaritic noun ‘gzr (“warrior”) and translated the whole phrase “in your army.” Later, however, he properly changed his mind.186 Indeed, although military might is envisioned here, the Hebrew phrase is far more wide-ranging and includes all sorts of supporting resources. Thus the translation “helpers” (so NASB) remains a convenient rendering of the MT, although the NIV “allies” is not without merit. The change ad sensum from “your” to “her” helpers/allies (NASB, NIV) is unnecessary and destroys the enallage (her ... your) that is so characteristic of Nahum (cf. 2:13; 3:7).

3:10לַגֹּלָה (“into exile”): Since the normal idiom is בַּגּוֹלָה (hence the reading of 4QNah), it may be that the presence of בַשֶּׁבִי (“into captivity”) may have occasioned the prophet’s use of stylistic variation in the shift from ב to ל. Although the meaning “in/into” is attested for both prepositions, M. D. Futato has suggested that, even though the semantic range of ב and ל may overlap and therefore yield the same English translation, the distinctive nuance of each may always be felt: בּ = position within the confines of; ל = position at, or pertaining/belonging to.187 Although the verb הָלַךְ (“went”) is to be taken with both prepositional phrases, it is possible that there may be more than stylistic variation here. Thus, the citizens of Thebes went into that which belongs/pertains to exile ( ל) and went into the confines of captivity ( בּ).

יְרֻטְּשׁוּ (“were dashed to pieces”): The form is a preterite.188 The practice of exterminating infants is recorded elsewhere in the Scriptures (2 Kings 8:12; Ps. 137:9; Isa. 13:16, 18; Hos. 10:14; 13:16; cf. Matt. 2:16-18). The perpetration of barbaric acts of cruelty against captive cities is abundantly attested in the Assyrian annals. Ashurbanipal reports that in the Elamite War

I cut off the head of Teumman, their king,—the haughty one, who plotted evil. Countless of his warriors I slew. Alive, with (my) hands, I seized his fighters. With their corpses I filled the plain about Susa as with baltu and ashagu. Their blood I let run down the Ulai; its water I dyed (red) like wool.189

In a later Elamite campaign against Bit-Imbi:

The people dwelling therein, who had not come forth and had not greeted my majesty, I slew. Their heads I cut off. (Of others) I pierced the lips (and) took them to Assyria as a spectacle for the people of my land.190

To these may be added the examples of Assyrian cruelty mentioned earlier in the additional note on 3:2-3 and the exposition of 3:1-7.

†As for the casting of lots for captives and their possessions, one may note Obad. 11; Joel 3:3 (HB 4:3).191 The practice is also documented in extrabiblical literature, as is the binding in chains of captured nobility (cf. 2 Kings 25:7; Isa. 45:15; Jer. 40:1, 4). Ashurbanipal boasts:

I entered that city; its inhabitants I slaughtered like lambs. Dunanu (and Sam’gunu, ... in shackles, fetters of iron, bonds of iron, I bound them hand and foot. The rest of the sons of Bêl-ikîsha, his family ... I carried off from Gambulu to Assyria.192

As for נִכְבַּדֶּיהָ (“her nobles”), note the appellation of the merchants of Tyre as “renowned in the earth” (Isa. 23:8). The meaning “nobles” is assured both from its relation to its root and from the contextual parallel “leading men” (lit. “great ones”). רֻתְּקוּ may form an enveloping paronomasia with יְרֻטְּשׁוּ. Cathcart calls attention to the play on the consonants d and q in the second half of the verse.

3:11גַּם (“too”) is a flavoring particle whose exact nuance needs to be felt in individual contexts. Together with its occurrences in the previous verse (“yet”) it is found four times in close proximity. Its recurrence has the effect of the clarion peal of a bell dolefully sounding out the awful truth that Nineveh, too, must surely reenact the tragic experience of Thebes.

†For MT תִּשְׁכְּרִי (“you will become drunk”) several scholars suggest תִּשָּׂכְּרִי (“you will hire yourself out,” i.e., as a prostitute), citing the familiar example of wartime conditions described in the KRT epic (lines 97-98).193 By adopting this reading one is forced also to understand differently the following נַעֲלָמָה (“hiding”). Cathcart follows Dahood194 in understanding this latter word as being related to עלמה (“maiden”) and translates the whole phrase, “you will become young again.” Although the Ugaritic parallel is interesting, the pointing of both verbs in the MT makes sense as it stands and is appropriate to the desperate conditions described here. Moreover Nahum has mentioned the problem of drunkenness earlier in another connection (in 1:10). Still further, the idea in the parallel line of seeking refuge from the enemy favors the thought of going into hiding for נַעֲלָמָה. Maier’s suggestion to take the form נַעֲלָמָה as a passive, “be hidden” (i.e., under the collapsing rubble), appears unlikely in light of the following line.

†The MT מָעוֹז (“refuge”) comes from the root עוּז (“seek refuge”). The use of the verb בִּקֵּשׁ (“seek”)195 rather than any of its numerous synonyms may suggest the earnest and frantic search by the fleeing exiles for a place of safety. Note, however, that Nahum never uses the common synonym דָּרַשׁ (“seek”), so that his employment of בִּקִּשׁ may indicate a stylistic preference.

3:12 † מִבְצָר (“fortress”) is generally taken to come from the root בָּצַר (“restrain/cut off,” hence “fortify”), although Cathcart relates the Hebrew root to Cyrus Gordon’s suggestion for the Ugaritic verb bs£r (“soar”). The idea behind the word “fortress” would then be derived from the act of “raising defenses higher.” André Parrot unnecessarily understands the fortresses here to refer to Nineveh’s supporting towns of Ashur and Tarbis£u, which fell in 614 B.C., two years before Nineveh itself was captured.196

†For עִם (“with”) in such types of subordinate structure, see Song of Sol. 4:13. For the image of early ripe figs taken into the mouth of the eater, see Isa. 28:4. וְנָפְלוּ יִנּוֹעוּ provides another example of alliteration and assonance.

3:13 † הִנֵּה (“behold”) is again used in drawing a unit to its close (cf. 1:15; 3:5). This particle stands outside the parallel structure of the verse as anacrusis.197

עַמֵּךְ (“your troops”): The military situation involved here has led several commentators (e.g., Cathcart, R. L. Smith) and modern versions (e.g., NIV, RSV; cf. NEB) to abandon the traditional understanding of the word as “people” (e.g., KJV).

Nahum’s taunt concerning Nineveh’s warriors becoming women is illuminated by D. R. Hillers’s reminder of Near Eastern treaty curses in which warriors are compared to women, especially in the treaty between Ashurnirari V of Assyria and Mati’ilu of Arpad, where the curse of warriors becoming women is juxtaposed with that of Mati’ilu’s wives becoming prostitutes.198 J. M. P. Smith arbitrarily omits עַם as a “misplaced correction of עִם in v. 12” and translates: ”Behold, women are in the midst of thee!”199 But such a suggestion is at variance with both the reading of the passage and the secular parallels, and it upsets the syntax and structure of the traditional texts.

לְאֹיְבַיִךְ (“to your enemies”) stands in emphatic position at the head of the second line of the verse. The emphatic position has been retained in the translation both to reflect the sentiment of the Hebrew and to maintain the force of the parallel pair “gates/bars” in the closing lines.

אַרְצֵךְ (“your city”): I have related the noun to the Akkadian cognate ers£etu (“city quarter”). Thus “gates” probably refers to the gates of (sections of) Nineveh. If one follows the traditional understanding for אֶרֶץ (“land”), the reference would probably be to the fortified cities leading to Nineveh.

2. A Concluding Condemnation Of Nineveh (3:14-19)

Draw for yourself water for the siege;

      strengthen your defenses;

go to the clay

      and tread the mortar

      —strengthen* the brickwork!

15There* the fire will consume you.

      the sword will cut you down,

      it will devour you like a grasshopper*.

Multiply* yourselves like grasshoppers,

      swell your ranks like locusts*.

16You have increased your merchants

      more than the stars of the heavens;

(they are) grasshoppers (that) strip (the land) and fly away.

17Your guards* are like locusts,

      your officials like a swarm of locusts that settle on the walls* on

      a cold day;

(when) the sun rises, they flee*,

      and their place is unknown.

18Where* are your shepherds slumbering, O king of Assyria,

      your nobles taking their rest?

Your people are scattered* upon the mountains

      with no one to gather (them).

19There is no healing* for your fracture;

      your injury is severe*.

All who hear the news about you

      will clap (their) hands over you;

for on whom has not passed

      your evil continually*?

Exegesis and Exposition

With v. 14 Nahum approaches the end of his prophecy. The verses that follow form the second portion of an extended taunt song that again functions as satire. Although the closing verses constitute one literary unit, several movements are discernible. Thus, this short pericope contains two short commands given in irony (vv. 14-15a; 15b-17) and a final gibe that forms both a concluding denunciation and a doleful dirge (vv. 18-19).

The first movement emphasizes the futility of physical preparations in view of the coming siege. Nahum’s sarcasm is evident throughout. He tells the Ninevites first of all to lay in a good water supply. Maier points out the lack of natural water resources for Nineveh, a fact that heightens the force of Nahum’s taunting exhortation:

This scarcity of potable water in Nineveh itself gives unusual force to the prophet’s urging, “Draw thyself water for a siege.” If the invaders followed the usual strategy of hostile forces in antiquity, one of their first actions would have been to cut off the water supply furnished by Sennacherib’s dam and its reservoir. Nahum foreseeing that the water would be withheld from the city, and inferring a long, protracted siege, tauntingly directs the Ninevites to lay up stores for the beleaguered days.200

Similarly Nahum urges the citizens of Nineveh to strengthen the strategic points of the city’s defenses.* That would mean giving particular attention to repairing the brickwork of the fortifications and key pressure points in the wall, such as at the city gates, where the walls were doubly thick. It is known that both Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal devoted considerable effort to matters of repair and to the strengthening of Nineveh’s defenses, including its walls. The force of the irony becomes immediately apparent. In those matters where the most extensive preparations are urged to be taken—water and walls—the city was to meet its demise (see the exposition of 2:6-7).

Nahum prophesies that Nineveh would know the besieger’s fiery* torch and sword as the enemy sweeps through the city like a horde of devouring locusts. The devastation wrought by locusts was well-known to the ancients and is amply chronicled in many sources.201 The dreaded locust attack became a ready point of literary comparison to a military assault. One is reminded of Joel 2:2-11, where attacking Assyrians are compared to a locust invasion.

The mention of the fearsome locusts occasions Nahum’s shift in the use of irony. Once again the figure of the locusts is utilized. Locusts—how appropriate! You too, Nineveh, should perform like locusts, multiplying your defensive forces to locustlike proportions. Should that not be easy for Nineveh? Indeed, it could be truly said of the city that she had acted before like a locust. As a result of her far-flung conquests, Nineveh had become filled with booty and with the famed Assyrian merchant* who, plying his trade, filled the city with every conceivable commodity. But with the coming of the threat of invasion, Nineveh’s merchants will take their wares and flee, leaving the city deprived of its provisions, many of which would be so desperately needed in the ensuing struggle. As locusts who come only to satisfy their insatiable appetites and then fly off, so her merchants would take their goods and go, leaving a needy populace behind.

Likewise, Nineveh’s trusted officials could be likened to locusts that come out of the ground in great swarms, lodge during the cooler part of the day on walls, and then, with the rising of the sun, fly away. Ancient sources record the flight of the Assyrian nobility with the advance of the combined enemy force against Nineveh.202 The Assyrian kings repeatedly boasted that, on hearing of the advance of the Assyrian monarch, the enemy king and his officials fled for their lives. Particularly instructive are the words of Ashurbanipal:

In my second campaign I made straight for Egypt and Ethiopia. Tandamanê heard of the advance of my army and that I was invading the territory of Egypt. He forsook Memphis and fled to Ni’, to save his life.203

Ummanaldasi, king of Elam, heard of the entrance of my armies into the midst of Elam, forsook Madaktu, his royal city, fled and went up into the (lit., his) mountain(s). Umbahabua, who, after Elam had risen in revolt, had fled to the city of Bubilu, and had seated himself on the throne of Elam in place of Ummanaldasi, heard, like that one, (of my invasion), forsook Bubilu, the city that was his royal seat, and like a fish betook (himself) to the depth of the distant waters.204

Now the Assyrian king and his officials would be cast in the same role. With the heat of the day’s battle, Nineveh would be left without her leadership to provide her defense. How skillfully Nahum has played upon the figure of the locust! Like locusts her merchants and officials flee and leave Nineveh alone, leaderless, ill-equipped to meet the advance of the locustlike army that was even now about to surround her. M. Travers puts it well:

No defense and no government. Stripped within and under siege from without, Nineveh stands defenseless. Nahum emphasizes the absolute vulnerability of Nineveh with these few brief similes. It is too late for Jonah’s invitation to repentance.205

As Nahum approaches the end of his prophecy he changes the figure one last time. Nineveh’s leaders are now compared to shepherds* (cf. Jer. 23:1-2) who have nodded off to sleep and allowed the sheep (the Ninevites) to be scattered (in flight or in exile) and subjected to harm. Even worse, no one comes to regather them. The choice of this motif as the final one for the book may suggest, as many commentators have observed, that the “sleep” of the shepherds/officials is the sleep of death (cf. Jer. 51: 57). With its officialdom dead in battle, Nineveh’s citizens have fled or been captured. With all leadership lost, there was none left to gather them. The “scatterer” (2:1) had come and done his work.

It was Nineveh’s final hour. The once mighty city had fallen and would soon become a ghost town; it would become a ruins, haunted only by wild animals moving through the rubble (cf. Zeph. 2:13-15). Nahum’s final denunciation of the city tolls out like a bell for a state funeral: Gone! Gone! Both city and citizenry, gone! Nineveh’s last wound had been the coup mortel. But there would be no lamentation over the deceased city, only universal relief and rejoicing. She who had so cruelly treated mankind had reaped the reward of her evil deeds (cf. Hos. 8:7).

Before listening to the last words of the messenger, it is appropriate to give a summary word concerning the accuracy of Nahum’s prophecies. As indicated in the various preceding comments, Nahum’s words have been dramatically precise in their fulfillment. Indeed, the prophecies concerning the siege and fall of Nineveh stand as a remarkable example of fulfilled prophecy.

(1) The fact of an intense siege (3:14) is validated both in the Babylonian Chronicles and by Diodorus Siculus. Although Diodorus tells of a protracted siege of more than two years, Assyriologists suggest that the evidence indicates a campaign that took little more than three months. H. W. F. Saggs maintains that

Greek tradition speaks of Scythians eventually coming into alliance with the Medes, and Nabopolassar must have been a party to this, for in 612 he joined the Ummanmanda and the Medes in besieging Nineveh. The city fell within three months, a surprisingly brief period in view of the fact that the comparable city of Babylon withstood the Assyrian army, masters of siegecraft, for well over a year.206

In any case, Nahum’s taunting words concerning siege preparations find corroboration in the findings of archaeologists who note the hasty strengthening of the walls at strategic defensive positions.

(2) The fall of the city due to water (1:8; 2:7, 9) has been attested both by archaeologists and the ancient historians Xenophon and Diodorus. The latter, reporting that an oracle had predicted Nineveh’s defeat only when the river declared war on it, subsequently adds, “It came to pass that the Euphrates, running very full, both inundated a portion of the city and broke down the walls for a distance of twenty stades.”207 Unusually heavy rains were known to have given difficulty to Nineveh, which was served by three rivers: the Tigris, the Khosr, and the Tebiltu. A high-water season and a sudden storm, accompanied by the swelling of any or all three rivers, would account for the fulfillment of Nahum’s prophecy as confirmed by Diodorus. Maier suggests that an added dimension could have been the opening of the sluice gates along the second and third rivers, thereby increasing the already dangerous floodwaters.

(3) Nahum also predicts the burning of the city (1:10; 2:13; 3:3, 15; cf. 1:6), a fact confirmed by archaeological excavation. Diodorus Siculus charges that the reigning king, a depraved and effeminate man, acted out of fear and superstition:

At this the king, believing that the oracle had been fulfilled and that the river had plainly become the city’s enemy, abandoned hope of saving himself. And in order that he might not fall into the hands of the enemy, he built an enormous pyre in his palace, heaped upon it all his gold and silver as well as every article of the royal wardrobe and then, shutting his concubines and eunuchs in the room which had been built in the middle of the pyre, he consigned both them and himself and his palace to the flames.208

Nahum’s emphasis on the destruction of Nineveh’s temples (1:14) is also confirmed by the excavations at Nineveh.209

(4) Minute details concerning the events of the final days before Nineveh’s fall, such as the drunkenness (1:10; 3:11), cowardice, degeneracy (3:3), and the desertion (2:9; 3:17) of the city by its leadership are also abundantly recorded in the ancient traditions. Diodorus speaks of the carousing of the Assyrian officials and troops and reports that the Assyrian king sent away his family with much treasure.210 Maier believes that moral perversion was rampant during Nineveh’s last days and contributed strongly to the nation’s downfall.

(5) Nahum’s prophecies concerning the final slaughter of Nineveh’s citizens (3:3) and the looting of the city (2:10, 11), its utter destruction (2:11; 3:7), and the virtual disappearance of its people (3:18-19) are facts confirmed in the ancient records.211 The essential truth of Nahum’s words is the consensus of modern researchers (e.g., Layard, Thompson, and Hutchinson) as well.212 So dramatic was the demise of Nineveh and disappearance of Assyria that Sidney Smith observes:

The disappearance of the Assyrian people will always remain an unique and striking phenomenon in ancient history. Other, similar, kingdoms and empires have indeed passed away, but the people have lived on.... No other land seems to have been sacked and pillaged so completely as was Assyria; no other people, unless it be Israel, was ever so completely enslaved.213

While some natural factors may help to account for Assyria’s final condition, such as the nation’s degeneracy, the deportation of its skilled craftsmen, and the composite nature of Assyrian society,214 the ultimate cause was the divine judgment pronounced by God’s prophets, such as Nahum and Zephaniah (Zeph. 2:13-15; cf. Jer. 50:18; Ezek. 32:22-23). The specter of Assyria’s disappearance haunts every great empire. Nahum’s opening words concerning divine justice are general, so that wherever a godless lifestyle so pervades a nation as to be characteristic of its people, it stands in danger of judgment. P. C. Craigie’s words of warning are apropos: “If we have grasped Nahum’s message, we will not volunteer to join the ranks of Nineveh’s attackers; rather, we shall seek to transform the evil within the nation to which we belong.”215

Nahum’s last words contain the message that the news of Nineveh’s fall has spread across the landscape (v. 19).216 But the tidings of that event are not met with a tear; they are welcomed with a clap of hands and, perhaps, a heaving sigh.

The poet’s skill continues to the very end. Once more he utilizes a rhetorical question to conclude a section, here with sobering effect. Had any escaped Nineveh’s cruelty that continually threatened people all around her? The implied negative answer guarantees the universal rejoicing over Nineveh’s demise. This last use of a rhetorical question (a double one, in the light of v. 18) is one of five such instances that have been woven into the book’s fabric. Twice rhetorical questions introduce the poet’s satirical taunt song (2:11; 3:8). Three times a rhetorical question closes a unit with striking effect: to underscore God’s irresistible judgment of sin (1:6), and to emphasize Nineveh’s much deserved destruction (3:7, 19).

Israel would doubtless join in that exultation and take comfort in the good news (cf. 1:7, 12, 15; 2:2). Her dreaded enemy was gone, a reminder of God’s promise concerning His judgment of all Israel’s foes (e.g., Gen. 12:3; Judg. 5:31). Unlike Assyria’s shepherds, Israel’s eternal Shepherd “slumbers not nor sleeps” (Ps. 121:3) and will yet regather her lost sheep (Jer. 23:3) so that Israel’s redeemed cities can “be filled with flocks of people” (Ezek. 36:38). Moreover the divine shepherd Himself (Ps. 23:1) will be with them: “I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Ezek. 37:27, NIV). May Nahum’s words, as well as those of God’s prophets, teach all God’s people to trust fully Him who is the shepherd and overseer of their souls (1 Pet. 2:25).

Additional Notes

3:14 A comparison of the three extended pieces of satire in Nahum yields the schema at top of pg. 109.

מִבְצָרָיִךְ ... מָצוֹר מֵי (“water for the siege,” “your defenses”): Nahum’s literary prowess continues in evidence through his use of assonance. מִבְצָרָיךְ also provides a hook to the previous subsection (cf. v. 12). The imperative חַזְּקִי (“strengthen”) anticipates the repetition of the same verb in the hiphil stem in the last line of the verse. Although






Object of attack





Vehicle of attack

Metaphor of lion’s den

Comparison with Thebes

Irony, simile, and metaphor


Satirical tone





Satirical emphasis

Nineveh’s rapacity

Nineveh’s defenses

Nineveh’s cruelty

this latter occurrence of the verb is frequently taken by expositors (e.g., Maier, R. Smith) to have the meaning “grasp/seize,” “take hold of,” such need not be the case. Rather, the full phrase of the last line of the verse may intend the strengthening of the 50- to 100-foot thick walls surrounding Nineveh. Such is the force of NIV “repair the brickwork.” If one so construes it (cf. Neh. 5:16; Ezek. 27:9, 27), he need not choose the alternative translation of מַלְבֵּן as “brick kiln” (KJV, Keil) or “brick mold” (Cathcart, Maier), despite the attestations of such a meaning in late Hebrew and Syriac. The Hebrew word found here is best translated “brickwork” and is related to the Akkadian libittu (“brickwork”).217

For טִיט (“clay”; i.e., for use in making brick; cf. Isa. 41:25) and חֹמֶר (“mortar” or [reddish] soil [note its use in parallel with לְבֵנִים, “bricks,” in Ex. 1:14]) occurring together in parallel, see Isa. 41:25, where the same two verbs בּוֹא (“go”) and רָמַס (“tread”) are also found together, although in somewhat different fashion.218 Thus the full taunt expressed here is to draw water for the coming siege and to strengthen the fortifications/defenses by going and kneading the clay so as to make bricks for the repair of the walls.

3:15שָׁם (“there”): Instead of the traditional meaning, Cathcart suggests “behold” on the analogy of Akkadian sŒumma (as attested in Amarna). Maier proposes the translation “then,” citing such texts as Pss. 14:5; 36:12 (HB 36:13); 66:6. Perhaps a better solution might be to follow C. F. Whitley219 in postulating an asseverative force for שָׁם in several contexts. Nevertheless the translation “there” is not without merit, especially if, as BDB suggests, the particle often points to a “spot in which a scene is localized vividly in the imagination.”220 In this case, disaster will strike in the very place where the workers did their reinforcing.

Again the figure of consuming/eating is employed, here as sandwiched repetition for dramatic emphasis.221 As Maier points out, the terms “fire” and “sword” often appear together as a pair in connection with catastrophes. The two are also often placed together in Ugaritic.222 Noteworthy as well is the heaping up of the letter aleph throughout the verse.

הִתְכַּבֵּד (“multiply”) is probably to be construed as an infinitive absolute, anticipating the following imperative.223

אַרְבֶּה ... רֶלֶק (“grasshopper ... locust”): The precise identification of the various Hebrew words for locusts is debated. אַרְבֶּה (cf. Akkadian erbu) is generally taken to be the adult winged insect (cf. Greek ἀχρίς, Latin locusta), whereas יֶלֶק is often rendered “young locust” or “licker.” גּוֹב/ גֹּבַי (v. 17) are generally conceded to refer to locusts, here in repetition to indicate a locust swarm. Other words for locust include גָּזָם (“gnawer”?) and חָסִיל (“consumer”?), both of which are found in Joel 1:4.224

3:16 רֹכְלַיִךְ (“your merchants”): The noun comes from the root rkl, known in South Arabic where it means “go about as a trader.” This final section abounds in literary features. First the Assyrian “merchants” are compared in number to the stars of heaven (cf. Gen. 26:4), then to locusts that stay only long enough to gain their advantage and then leave. Some have seen in the mention of the merchants a reference to the Assyrians’ far-flung trading enterprises. They reason as follows: The Assyrian armies had reduced the entire Fertile Crescent to political subservience. In the wake of their frequent military excursions, there would soon follow the appearance of the time-honored Assyrian merchant. Their ubiquitous presence in the vast Assyrian empire could be likened to the innumerable stars of heaven. All such commercial activities scarcely benefited their subdued trading partners, however, for when the merchants had accomplished their desired ends they would disappear, leaving a people disadvantaged and deprived of their finest goods. Although this scenario was doubtless usually the case, such was not always true. In any event the parallel with Nineveh’s fleeing guards in the next verse favors the explanation given in the Exegesis and Exposition.

3:17מִנְּזָרַיִךְ (“your guards”): Since the following term טַפְסְרַיִךְ (“your officials”; lit. “your tablet writers/scribes”) is clearly Akkadian, doubtless this term is also. Because the Akkadian root naza„ru (“curse”) scarcely makes sense here, probably the root is nas£a„ru (“guard”), which has undergone regressive contiguous phonemic dissimilation. The alternating between z and is common enough in Akkadian. Certainly nas£a„ru is attested with z written for and with dissimilation via n (nasalization), particularly in Babylonian.225

גְּדֵרוֹת (“walls”) can also refer to fences or hedges.

נוֹדַד (“flee”) is poal perfect 3d masc. sing. agreeing with the masc. sing. pronominal suffix in מָקוֹם (“place”). The form is a hapax legomenon. No‚dad ... no‚daà provides still another example of alliteration and assonance.

3:18אַיָּם (“where”): The word appears in v. 17 in the MT and hence is usually translated with that verse: for example, “And no one knows where” (NIV; cf. NASB, KJV). The form can also be taken as an adverbial particle with 3d masc. pl. suffix: “Where are they?” (so Maier, who includes it with v. 17). It can also be understood as the interrogative particle אֵי (“where?”), usually lengthened to אַיֵּה but here written with (enclitic?) formative m (cf. GKC par. 100g), much like Amarna (124:15; 131:43) ayyami.226 I have followed the lead of BHS and some expositors (e.g., Cathcart) in translating it as an interrogative particle introducing the question contained in v. 18. Thus understood, Nahum has once again closed a literary unit with a question (cf. 1:6, 9?; 2:11; 3:7).

The parallel term “your nobles” renders it certain that רֹעֶיךָ is to be translated “your shepherds.” Therefore, attempts to view the latter word as the plural of רֵעַ (“friend”; cf. Pesh.) are in error. The sequence שָׁכַן ... נוּם (“slumber ... be at rest”) is probably chosen instead of the more common pair יָשַׁן ... נוּם (“slumber ... sleep”; cf. Pss. 76:5 [HB 76:6]; 121:4; 132:4; Prov. 6:4, 10; 24:33; Isa. 5:27) to emphasize a sleep of finality, i.e., death (cf. Ps. 94:7; Isa. 26:19). The Semitic root sŒkn can bear the meaning “rest” (e.g., Arabic sakana). The semantic range represented in the words of the MT may contain a picturesque progression. The king of Assyria’s trusted officials, far from being awake to the emergency, grow drowsy and take their rest—one that will prove to be final.

נָפשׁוּ (“are scattered”) is doubtless from the root פּוּשׁ (“spring about”; niphal = “be scattered”). Dahood’s suggestion (followed by Cathcart) to take the form in question as a piel denominative from נֶפֶשׁ (“soul”), hence נִפְּשׁוּ (“expire”), is forced at best and unlikely at all in the light of the parallel image of (re)gathering, i.e., that which is scattered. Cathcart’s further proposal, that מְקַבֵּץ וְאֵין (“with no one to gather them”) is to be understood as “there is none to remove them,” is still more forced and necessitated by his repointing of na„po„sŒu‚ to nippe†sŒu‚. Likewise the usual understanding of the MT עַמְּךָ as “your people” is certainly preferable to Cathcart’s attempt to translate the form as “your troops.” The whole picture is one of a totally dispersed populace, officials and citizens alike, scattered across the countryside like sheep on the mountains with no shepherd to regather them to safety (cf. 1 Kings 22:17).

3:19כֵּהָה (“healing”): The word is a hapax legomenon. If it is taken from the root כָּהָה (“grow faint/dim”), it may mean something like “relief.” It is commonly equated with the word גֵּהָה (“healing”), also a hapax legomenon (Prov. 17:22). In light of the established usages of the verbal root, something like “alleviation” probably is intended. But in the light of the following לְשִׁבְרֶךָ (“for your fracture”) either sense is tolerable. The masc. sing. pronominal suffix on the word for “fracture” refers to the king of Nineveh.

מַכָּתֶךָ נַתְלָה (“your injury is severe”): Similar phraseology is found in contexts containing שֶׁבֶר (“break”) in Jer. 10:19; 14:17; 30:12. For חָלָה in the sense of an incurable sickness, see Isa. 17:11; for its use as a severe wounding, see 1 Sam. 31:3

תָּמִיד רָעָתְךָ (“your evil continually”): The translation suggested here takes the word תָּמִיד as a simple adverb (cf. NASB). The NIV translation, “your endless cruelty,” reflects the possibility of a broken construct chain.227

1 H. E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1968), p. 226.

2 In the discussion of Nahum, all textual references adhere to the standard English format rather than to the MT, which renders 1:15 as the first verse of chap. 2.

3 Walter A. Maier, The Book of Nahum (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1959), p. 20.

4 See my discussion in R. D. Patterson and M. E. Travers, “Literary Analysis and the Unity of Nahum,” GTJ 9 (1988): 48-50.

5 J. A. Bewer, The Literature of the Old Testament, 3d ed. (New York: Columbia U., 1962), p. 147.

6 J. M. P. Smith, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Micah, Zephaniah and Nahum, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911), pp. 273-74.

7 For details, see Bewer, Literature, p. 147; Smith, Nahum, pp. 268-70; R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (New York: Harper, 1941), pp. 594-95; G. A. Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets, rev. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1929), 2:81-88.

8 See Carl E. Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:451-52.

9 For details, see Ralph L. Smith, Micah-Malachi, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1984), pp. 65-67.

10 H. W. F. Saggs, Assyriology and the Study of the Old Testament (Cardiff: U. of Wales, 1969), p. 13.

11 Kevin J. Cathcart, Nahum in the Light of Northwest Semitic (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1973), p. 13.

12 Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), p. 76.

13 J. G. Vos, “The Ethical Problem of the Imprecatory Psalms,” WTJ 4 (1942): 123.

14 C. K. Lehman, Biblical Theology (Scottsdale, Pa.: Herald, 1971), 1:439.

15 Gleason Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, rev. ed. (Chicago: Moody, 1974), pp. 452-53.

16 Chalmers Martin, “Imprecations in the Psalms,” in Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation, ed. W. C. Kaiser, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), pp. 123-24. For his excellent discussion, see pp. 128-30.

17 Martin, “Imprecations,” p. 128.

18 J. Carl Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” BS 138 (1981): 44. Laney’s treatment (e.g., pp. 35, 45) is particularly penetrating and should be consulted in any study of imprecation. Martin’s remarks on the subject are also highly beneficial.

19 See the discussion in J. M. P. Smith, Micah, Zephaniah, and Nahum, ICC (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1911), pp. 295-97.

20 See, e.g., Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody, 1974), p. 353. See also Walter A. Maier, The Book of Nahum (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), pp. 52-62.

21 R. D. Patterson and Michael E. Travers, “Literary Analysis and the Unity of Nahum,” GTJ 9 (1988): 56-57; see also Hummel, The Word Becoming Flesh (St. Louis: Concordia, 1979), p. 339.

22 See Kevin J. Cathcart, Nahum in the Light of Northwest Semitic (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1973), pp. 36-37; KB-3 2:604.

23 Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:657; see also W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “ נָשָׂא,” TWOT 2:602.

24 See A. Jepsen, “ חזה,” TDOT 4:280-90.

25 See further Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 1:24.

26 See the additional note at Hab. 1:1 and the discussion of C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 2:9.

27 See the discussion in J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, p. 285. Many scholars suggest that part of Nahum’s oracles are “vision reports”; see M. Sister, “Die Typen der prophetischen Visionen in der Bibel,” MGWJ 78 (1934): 399-430; A. S. Van der Woude, Jona, Nahum: Prediking Old Testament (Nijkerk: Callenbach, 1978), p. 97.

28 Hummel, The Word, p. 342.

29 Hermann Schulz, Das Buch Nahum (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1973), pp. 67, 131-33.

30 See Theodor H. Gaster, Thespis (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), p. 143; J. Gray, “The Hebrew Concept of the Kingship of God: Its Origin and Development,” VT 6 (1956): 280.

31 Barker, “Zechariah,” in EBC, 7:612. See also the discussion in Maier, Nahum, pp. 159-60.

32 P. B. Yoder, “A-B Pairs and Composition in Hebrew Poetry,” VT 21 (1971): 475-76.

33 M. Held, “Studies in Biblical Homonyms in the Light of Akkadian,” JANESCU 3 (1971): 46-55, as cited by Cathcart, Nahum, p. 43.

34 G. R. Driver, “Studies in the Vocabulary of the Old Testament III,” JTS 36 (1935): 361-66.

35 Carl E. Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC, 7:454-56.

36 For the statement that metaphor as an example of a trope constitutes meaning, see Paul Ricoeur, “The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling,” in On Metaphor, ed. Sheldon Sacks (Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1979), pp. 141-57. Ricoeur’s thesis is that metaphor creates meaning rather than embellishes it.

37 Patterson and Travers, “Literary Analysis,” p. 51.

38 See further my remarks in “The Song of Deborah,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), pp. 130-31; see further R. D. Patterson, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” GTJ 8 (1987): 163-70.

39 For the declarative use of the piel stem, see Delbert Hillers, “Delocutive Verbs in Biblical Hebrew,” JBL 6 (1967): 320-24.

40 A. Haldar, Studies in the Book of Nahum (Uppsala: Lundequistska Bokhandeln, 1947), p. 18. For emphatic lamedh, see Mitchell Dahood, Psalms, AB (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970), 3:406-7.

41 Cathcart, Nahum, pp. 46-47; for the full text of Ludlul Be„l Ne„meqi, see W. G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960), pp. 30-62.

42 J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, p. 289.

43 Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC, 7:455.

44 W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: JSM Press, 1986), p. 196.s

45 See AHW, p. 944; G. Liedke, “ רכב,” THAT, 2:777-82. See also R. D. Patterson, “A Multiplex Approach to Psalm 45,” GTJ 6 (1985): 37 n. 35.

46 See further Cathcart, Nahum, p. 48.

47 See the full discussion in A. Cooper, “Divine Names and Epithets in the Ugaritic Texts,” RSP, 3:369-83.

48 See, e.g., Sennacherib’s penetration of this area as recorded in D. D. Luckenbill, AR, 2:161-62. Sennacherib’s boast is also noted in 2 Kings 19:23. See further A. Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (Chicago: University Press, 1963), pp. 6-7.

49 K. Cathcart, “Kingship and the Day of Yahweh in Isaiah 2:6-22,” Hermathena 125 (1978): 52, 55.

50 For details, see J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, p. 298. For the existence of pulal forms in Hebrew, see GKC par. 55d.

51 See Cathcart, Nahum, p. 53.

52 For full details, see Maier, Nahum, pp. 170-71.

53 See further Cathcart, Nahum, p. 53; W. L. Moran, “The Hebrew Language in Its Northwest Semitic Background,” in The Bible and the Ancient Near East, ed. G. Ernest Wright (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965), pp. 71, 83 n. 108.

54 Catheart, Nahum, P. 55. Cathcart subsequently changed his mind and translated the passage in question as follows: “Yahweh is good, indeed a fortress”; for details, see K. Cathcart, “More Philological Studies in Nahum,” JNSL 7 (1979): 4.

55 See further M. Pope, “‘Pleonastic’ Waw before Nouns in Ugaritic and Hebrew,” JAOS 73 (1953): 95-98; D. W. Baker, “Further Examples of the WAW EXPLICATIVUM,” VT 30 (1980): 129-36.

56 For details, see G. F. Botterweck, “ ידע,” TDOT 5:448-54.

57 See R. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), pp. 103-4; J. Gamberoni, “ תסה,” TDOT 5:64-75.

58 For s£a„ra‚ as “rebellion” or “opposition,” see T. H. Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament (New York: Peter Smith, 1969), p. 665.

59 Cathcart, Nahum, p. 60.

60 For details, see Maier, Nahum, pp. 193-95; J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, pp. 294-95, 301-2.

61 See BDB, p. 724.

62 For details, see R. Gordis, “The Asseverative Kaph in Ugaritic and Hebrew,” JAOS 63 (1943): 176-78; M. Dahood, Psalms, 3:402-6.

63 For the existence of the qal passive in biblical Hebrew, see R. J. Williams, “The Passive Qal Theme in Hebrew,” in Essays on the Ancient Semitic World, ed. J. W. Wevers and D. B. Redford (Toronto: University Press, 1970), pp. 43-50.

64 See H. D. Preuss, “ זָרַע,” TDOT 4:150-62.

65 Maier, Nahum, pp. 212-13.

66 Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC, 7:469.

67 P. C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985), 2:66-67.

68 For details as to the use of the suffix conjugation in narrative verbal sequence, see W. L. Moran, A Syntactical Study of the Dialect of Byblos as Reflected in the Amarna Tablets (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1950), pp. 36-39; S. Schrader, “Was the Earth Created a Few Thousand Years Ago?—Yes,” in The Genesis Debate, ed. R. Youngblood (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991), pp. 76-77.

69 For áa„mar as a term of divine communication, see S. Wagner, “ אָמַרTDOT 1:335-41.

70 For details, see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 2d ed. (Toronto: University Press, 1976), p. 85; A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1958), p. 176.

71 Cathcart, Nahum, p. 63.

72 D. J. Wiseman, “‘Is It Peace?’ Covenant and Diplomacy,” VT 32 (1982): 311-26.

73 For כֵּן used as an adverbial particle of degree, see BDB, p. 486.

74 Stephen Langdon, “Die Neubabylonischen Königsinschriften*,” Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology (1912): 17ff.

75 Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC, 7:468.

76 See further G. Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), pp. 76-77; M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York: Pardes, 1950), 2:1590.

77 For enclitic -m, see H. D. Hummel, “Enclitic MEM in Early Northwest Semitic, Especially Hebrew,” JBL 76 (1957): 85-107; M. Pope, “Ugaritic Enclitic -m,” JCS 5 (1951): 123-28.

78 See BHS; J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, pp. 327-28.

79 See further J. Gray, I & II Kings, 2d ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), p. 337; “Idol,” IDB 2:673-75; F. B. Huey, Jr., “Idolatry,” ZPEB 3:242-48; R. D. Patterson, “ סֶמֶל,” TWOT 2:628.

80 J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, p. 312; Maier, Nahum, p. 215.

81 See A. L. Oppenheim, “The Archives of the Palace of Mari II,” JNES 13 (1954): 145; H. S. Pelser, “The Verbal Roots bsÃr/bsŒr/bsr (!) and sbr in the Semitic Languages,” O.T. Werk Suid A 15 (1972): 68-73; R. W. Fisher, A Study of the Semitic Root BSR to Bring (Good) Tidings (Columbia: University Press, 1966).

82 G. J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), p. 337. For short lines to mark a stanza ending, see Watson, Poetry, p. 165.

83 See R. D. Patterson, “Joel,” in EBC, 7:256.

84 C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody, 1986), p. 220.

85 C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 2:19.

86 See A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1901), p. 122.

87 For the phrase “restore the fortunes,” see my remarks on Joel 3:1 in “Joel,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:259.

88 Kevin J. Cathcart, “More Philological Studies in Nahum,” JNSL 7 (1979): 6.

89 J. M. P. Smith, Micah, Zephaniah and Nahum, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911), p. 305.

90 See Kevin J. Cathcart, Nahum in the Light of Northwest Semitic (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1973), pp. 85-86; G. G. V. Stonehouse, The Books of the Prophets Zephaniah and Nahum, Westminster Commentaries (London: Methuen, 1929), p. 115. For literature and examples of this root, see H. B. Huffmon, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1965), pp. 187-88.

91 See KB-3, 1:144.

92 ANET, p. 288.

93 AR, 2:265.

94 Cf. 2 Chron 33:11; see further R. D. Patterson and H. J. Austel, “1, 2 Kings,” in EBC, 4:277-80.

95 For details, see W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986), pp. 214-20.

96 W. A. Maier, The Book of Nahum (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), p. 253. For full details relative to warfare in the ancient Near East, see Y. Yadin, The Art of Biblical Warfare (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963); see also R. DeVaux, Ancient Israel, trans. John McHugh (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), pp. 215-57.

97 Richard D. Patterson and Michael E. Travers, “Literary Analysis and the Unity of Nahum,” GTJ 9 (1988): 53.

98 Maier, Nahum, p. 270. Maier devotes several pages (pp. 268-70) to documenting from the Assyrian records the immense riches acquired by the Assyrians in tribute and booty.

99 T. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia, 1956), p. 305.

100 For the pl. in compound expressions, see Davidson, Syntax, par. 15. For the parallel terms אַנְשֵׁי חַיִל|| גְּבוֹרִים , see the remarks of H. Eising, “ תַיל,” TDOT 4:350.

101 See further T. H. Gaster, Myth, Legend and Custom in the Old Testament (New York: Peter Smith, 1969), p. 727.

102 For suggestions on the various elements of the whole line, see The Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, ed. Barthélemy et al. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1973-80), 5:342-43.

103 For full details, see the discussion in Maier, Nahum, pp. 243-44.

104 So BDB, p. 932a.

105 See J. Muilenburg, “Hebrew Rhetoric: Repetition and Style,” in Congress Volume, VTS 1 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1953), p. 101.

106 For details, see Watson, Hebrew Poetry, pp. 214-21.

107 See further Maier, Nahum, pp. 247-48; Cathcart, Nahum, pp. 92-93. Maier concludes that “the variety and mutual exclusiveness of these emendations testify to their unsoundness.” J. M. P. Smith (Nahum, p. 330) observes that “none of the emendations offered can be considered satisfactory.”

108 See CAD, 21:16-17.

109 See further GKC par. 118d.

110 See R. D. Patterson, “ סָכַךְ,” TWOT 2:623-24.

111 T. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets, p. 302. See for full details A. H. Layard, Nineveh and Its Remains (New York: Putnam, 1849), 2:281-86.

112 For details, see M. Ottosson, “ הֵיכָל,” TDOT 3:382-88.

113 See H. W. F. Saggs, “Nahum and the Fall of Nineveh,” JTS 20 (1969): 221-22.

114 See further J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, pp. 320-21.

115 For suggestions as to solving the several problems in the whole line, see Old Testament Text Project, 5:343-45.

116 For the collective meaning “exiles” here, see BDB, p. 163b.

117 See S. N. Kramer’s translation of “The Curse of Agade” in ANETS, p. 214. The figure of the weeping woman is abundantly attested in the literature and artistry of the ancient Near East and the OT, as is the action of beating the breast in contrition (cf. Jer. 31:15; Luke 18:13; 23:27). For weeping women pleading for mercy and subsequently lamenting their captured state, see Layard, Nineveh, 2:286-87.

118 KAI, no. 189.

119 See, e.g., KB-3, 1:154.

120 For details, see GKC par. 130d (n.); note also the remarks of J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, pp. 322, 332; A. R. Hulst, Old Testament Translation Problems (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960), pp. 247-48.

121 See the critical note in BHS.

122 See for further details C. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1965), pp. 34-36; M. Dahood, “The Independent Personal Pronoun in the Oblique Case in Hebrew,” CBQ 32 (1970): 86-90; Psalms, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), 3:374. Maier’s suggestion (Nahum, p. 266) to read the independent pronoun as הִי (“lamentation”), here written with an added aleph due perhaps to a scribal corruption (cf. GKC par. 23i), rests on a hapax legomenon in Ezek. 2:10, which itself is a crux interpretum that has occasioned much controversy. The proposal has little to commend it. For the Ezekiel problem, see the remarks of M. Greenberg, Ezekiel, 1-20, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983), p. 67.

123 C. F. Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:25.

124 See M. Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” RSP, 1:234-35. Note also the several entries on the black obelisk of Shalmaneser III, in ANET, p. 231; AR, 1:211 (pars. 589, 590, 592, 593).

125 For discussion of the use of these words in Joel 2:6, see my note in “Joel,” in EBC, 7:249.

126 This derivation is followed by J. A. Thompson in his comments on Joel 2:6 (IB, p. 745); cf. LXX.

127 The image is thus that of the puckered forehead. For details, see S. M. Lehrman, “Joel,” in Soncino Edition of the Bible, ed. A. Cohen (New York: Soncino Books, 1948), p. 66.

128 KB, p. 750. Although differing etymological associations are put forward to substantiate the position, several scholars favor the idea of redness; cf., e.g., L. C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), p. 65; Julius A. Bewer, Obadiah and Joel, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1985), pp. 101-2. One may also note W. Rudolph, who has defended this idea in several publications; for bibliographical data, see KB-3, 3:860.

129 Among those advocating paleness as the thought here, see S. R. Driver, The Books of Joel and Amos (Cambridge: University Press, 1915), p. 53; C. F. Keil, Minor Prophets, 1:192-93; A. Haldar, Studies in the Book of Nahum (Uppsala: Lundquistska Bokhandeln, 1947), p. 59.

130 Numerous miscellaneous attempts have been made to solve this crux interpretum. To my knowledge no one has suggested viewing the p in pa„áru‚r as the Semitic conjunctive particle “and (then)” (cf. Ugaritic p; Arabic f) prefixed to the verb áa„rar (cf. Akkadian ara„ru II, “fear”). Together with the previous קִבְּצוּ, the twice occurring phrase (Joel 2:6; Nah. 2:10) could be an example of hendiadys that became idiomatic, “convulsed with fear.” Although such a meaning is unattested in the OT for áa„rar, the idiom as such could be a borrowed one. With repointing, the usual understanding of the verb (“curse”) would also yield tolerable idiomatic sense, the whole line reading, “every face contracts/is contracted and curses.” קִבְּצוּ here could of course also be repointed as a qal passive. An intransitive sense is known in Arabic ( qabad£a, V form). For proposed examples of conjunctive p in the OT, see M. Dahood, Psalms, 3:410. The phrase remains an insoluble crux; I have followed the majority of scholars in translating (ad sensum), “all faces grow pale.”

131 Cathcart, Nahum, p. 104.

132 Herbert Marks, “The Twelve Prophets,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1987), p. 215.

133 See AR, 2:129. J. M. P. Smith (Nahum, p. 324) properly remarks: “The lion was the favourite animal for artistic and decorative purposes in Assyria; hence the figure is peculiarly fitting.”

134 AR, 2:304.

135 AR, 2:309; for other examples of Assyrian cruelty and rapacity, see H. E. Freeman, Nahum Zephaniah Habakkuk, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1973), pp. 36-38; Maier, Nahum, pp. 281-83.

136 C. Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC, 7:479.

137 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:27.

138 Note also the employment of the explicative/relative particle in Judg. 5:5; see R. D. Patterson, “The Song of Deborah,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), pp. 127, 131, 154 n. 31. For examples of the possibility of Hebrew אִישׁ employed as a relative pronoun, see 1 Sam. 22:2; 2 Sam. 23:7; Ps. 112:1; Prov. 26:19. The possible relatival use of אִישׁ has been suggested in recent years by R. Gelio, “È possible un ái‚sŒ relativo/demonstrativo in ebraico biblico?” RivB 31 (1983): 410-34.

139 For progressive enjambment, see Watson, Hebrew Poetry, p. 334.

140 See J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, pp. 325, 333.

141 Cathcart, Nahum, pp. 107-8.

142 See BDB, p. 383.

143 See D. Vetter, “ הִנֵּה,” THAT, 1:505-7.

144 See further L. J. Coppes, “ נָאַם,” TWOT 2:541-42.

145 A similar use of “fire” in synecdoche occurs at 3:5.

146 See Watson, Hebrew Poetry, p. 268.

147 Note that the LXX reads πληθός σου, “your multitude” (cf. 4QNah rwbkh, “your abundance”). For oratio variata in change of discourse in Greek, see A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville: Broadman, 1934), pp. 442-43; for its employment in the Song of Solomon, see M. H. Pope, Song of Songs, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977), p. 297.

148 Maier, Nahum, p. 289.

149 AR, 1:156.

150 AR, 1:219-20.

151 AR, 2:304.

152 W. A. Maier, The Book of Nahum (reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), p. 292.

153 See further H. W. F. Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984), pp. 256-57.

154 R. D. Patterson and M. Travers, “Literary Analysis and the Unity of Nahum,” GTJ 9 (1988): 53.

155 C. Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:481.

156 On הוֹי , see R. J. Clifford, “The Use of ho‚y in the Prophets,” CBQ 28 (1966): 458-64. For the consideration of this particle as an extrametrical element, see W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: Sheffield U., 1986), p. 110.

157 For details, see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 2d ed. (Toronto: U. of Toronto, 1976), p. 6; GKC, par. 124n.

158 H. W. F. Saggs, Assyriology and the Study of the Old Testament (Cardiff: U. of Wales, 1969), p. 17.

159 Kevin J. Cathcart, Nahum in the Light of Northwest Semitic (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1973), p. 126. For the use of merismus here, see Watson, Hebrew Poetry, p. 323.

160 For the text, see R. Borger, Babylonisch-Assyrische Lesestücke (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1963), Table 49, V:70; Table 50, VI:8; for a translation, see AR, 2:126-27.

161 For discussion, see R. D. Patterson, “The Song of Deborah,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), p. 139.

162 For various suggestions as to the force of מַעֲלֶה (lit. “bringing up”), see Maier, Nahum, pp. 299-300.

163 AR, 1:146.

164 J. M. P. Smith, Micah, Zephaniah and Nahum, ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911), p. 337.

165 Ibid.

166 Maier, Nahum, p. 302.

167 For literary hinging, see H. Van Dyke Parunak, “Transitional Techniques in the Bible,” JBL 102 (1983): 540-41.

168 For details, see Cathcart, Nahum, pp. 129-30. For good discussions on the form, see J. M. P. Smith, Nahum, p. 365; Maier, Nahum, pp. 304-6.

169 For discussion of methods of intensification in Hebrew parallel structures, see Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic Books, 1985), pp. 13-26, 62-84.

170 H. J. Austel, “ שׁפח,” TWOT 2:947.

171 Basing his conclusions on the study of this verse in Nahum, D. R. Hillers (Treaty-Curses and the Old Testament Prophets [Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1964], pp. 58-60) has suggested the reading of the Sefi‚re inscription given in the note. See also J. A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefi‚re (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1967), pp. 14-15, 56-57.

172 See further A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1901), pp. 18-19.

173 See GKC, par. 112y.

174 For its use in the divine title El Shaddai, see my remarks in “Joel,” in EBC, 7:243 n. 15.

175 For a full discussion, see S. Wagner, “ בִּקֵּשׁ,” TDOT 2:229-41.

176 See n. 64 in chap. 3 and GKC, par. 144p.

177 Armerding, “Nahum,” in EBC, 7:484.

178 AR, 2:296.

179 For details, see A. H. Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961), pp. 349-50; K. A. Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1973), pp. 394-406.

180 For the text and commentary, see H. Donner and W. Röllig, Kanaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1966), 1:5; 2:32-33; for English translation, see ANET, p. 654.

181 See AR, 2:300-4.

182 For similar use of asyndeton in Akkadian, see my remarks in Old Babylonian Parataxis (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1971), pp. 167-69.

183 See T. O. Lambdin, “Egyptian Loan Words in the Old Testament,” JAOS 73 (1963): 151; see also H. Eising, “ יְאֹר,” TDOT 5:359; R. D. Patterson and H. J. Austel, “1, 2 Kings,” EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 4:269-70.

184 See R. D. Patterson, “ סוּף,” TWOT 2:620.

185 See GKC, par. 91e. Note also the renderings of the ancient versions: LXX: ἰσχὺς αὐτῆς; Vg: fortitudo eius, both of which may be translated “her strength.”

186 Kevin J. Cathcart, “More Philological Studies in Nahum,” JNSL 7 (1979): 10.

187 M. D. Futato, “The Preposition ‘Beth’ in the Hebrew Psalter,” WTJ 41 (1978): 68-83.

188 For the use of the Hebrew preterite, see Williams, Syntax, pp. 32-33; see also Z. S. Harris, Development of the Canaanite Dialects (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1939), pp. 47-48.

189 AR, 2:300.

190 AR, 2:306.

191 See my remarks in “Joel,” in EBC, 7:261-62.

192 AR, 2:300.

193 For the text, see C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1965), p. 250.

194 M. Dahood, “Review of T. H. Robinson, F. Horst, Die Zwölf Kleinen Propheten,” CBQ 17 (1955): 104.

195 See footnote 27.

196 André Parrot, Nineveh and the Old Testament (New York: Philosophical Library, 1955), p. 279.

197 See Watson, Hebrew Poetry, p. 110.

198 See D. R. Hillers, Treaty-Curses, pp. 66-68.

199 For translation of the text of the treaty between Ashurnirari and Matiáilu, see ANET, p. 533.

200 Maier, Nahum, pp. 339-40.

201 See the valuable excursus in S. R. Driver, The Books of Joel and Amos (Cambridge: Cambridge U., 1915), pp. 64-93.

202 See Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica, 2.26.8; the text and its translation are given in the Loeb Classical Library, ed. E. H. Warmington, translated by G. H. Oldfather (Harvard: University Press, 1933), p. 439. See also D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1956), p. 61.

203 AR, 2:295.

204 AR, 2:306.

205 Patterson and Travers, “Literary Analysis,” p. 55.

206 Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria, p. 120.

207 Bibliotheca historica, 2.27.1, LCL, pp. 440-41.

208 Bibliotheca historica, 2.27.2, LCL, pp. 440-41.

209 Details as to the destruction of Nineveh may be found in R. Campbell Thompson and R. W. Hamilton, “The British Museum Excavations on the Temple of Ishtar at Nineveh, 1930-31,” Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 19 (1932): 55-73.

210 Bibliotheca historica, 2.26.4, 8, LCL, pp. 436-39.

211 Bibliotheca historica, 2.28.7-8, LCL, pp. 444-45; Wiseman, Chaldaean Kings, p. 61.

212 A. H. Layard (Nineveh and Its Remains [New York: Putnam, 1849], 1:29) remarks concerning the disappearance of the inhabitants of the land: “Those of whose works they are the remains, unlike the Roman and the Greek, have left no visible traces of their civilizations, or of their arts: their influence has long since passed away.” R. Campbell Thompson and R. W. Hutchinson, “The Excavations on the Temple of Nabu at Nineveh,” Archaeologia 79 (1929): 73-74, 106-7, detail the devastation and desolation of the site. Maier, Nahum, pp. 135-38, has a compendium of testimonies, ancient and modern, as to the disappearance of the Assyrians and their great capital.

213 CAH, 3:130-31.

214 Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria, pp. 129-30.

215 P. C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985), 2:76.

216 For the motif of the message/messenger, see 1:15; 2:13; 3:7.

217 See CAD, 9:176-79.

218 For חֹמֶר and טִיט, see H. Ringgren and A. S. Kapelrud, TDOT 5:1-4, 322.

219 For details, see C. F. Whitley, “Has the Particle שם an Asseverative Force?”, Bib 55 (1974): 394-98.

220 BDB, p. 1027.

221 For further details, see Watson, Hebrew Poetry, p. 279.

222 See UT, p. 168, text no. 49, II:30-33; p. 197, text no. 137, line 32.

223 For details, see Williams, Syntax, pp. 38-39.

224 See also Thomas J. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, WEC, ed. Kenneth Barker (Chicago: Moody, 1990), p. 21.

225 For details, see CAD, 10 part 1, pp. 333-34; 11 part 2, pp. 34-47. See further S. Moscati, An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1964), p. 59; GAG, par. 30b, 32a, b.

226 For this particle, see CAD, 1 part 1, p. 220. See also D. Cohen, Dictionnaire des racines sémitiques (Paris: Mouton, 1970), 1:16-17.

227 For this proposed construction, see D. N. Freedman, “The Broken Construct Chain,” Bib 53 (1972): 534-36; A. C. M. Blommerde, “The Broken Construct Chain, Further Examples,” Bib 55 (1974): 549-52; M. Dahood, Psalms, AB (Garden City, NY.: Doubleday, 1970), 3:52. For a dissenting opinion, see J. D. Price, “Rosh: An Ancient Land Known to Ezekiel,” GTJ 6 (1985): 76-88.

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2. Habakkuk

Introduction to Habakkuk

Historical Context


Taken at face value Habakkuk’s short prophecy is set in a time of national upheaval characterized by gross social injustice (1:2-4) and by the imminent advent of the Babylonians (Chaldeans) as the foremost international power (1:5-11). Accordingly evangelical commentators have opted for a preexilic setting that antedates the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Three main positions have been articulated among such scholars. (1) The majority (e.g., Archer, Freeman, Hailey, R. K. Harrison, Hummel, E. J. Young) date the prophecy to the time of Jehoiakim, whose godless disposition (2 Kings 24:1-3; Jer. 26; 36) occasioned prophetic utterances of condemnation together with the threat of a Babylonian invasion (Jer. 25). (2) Others (e.g., Bullock, Laetsch, Pusey, Unger) decide for a date in the reign of Josiah before the finding of a copy of the law in 621 B.C. They argue that the desperate moral conditions denounced by Habakkuk could well be reflective of that period (cf. Jer. 1-6) and relate Habakkuk’s prediction of the coming Chaldeans to the transitional nature of the period near the end of the Neo-Assyrian era. (3) Still others (e.g., Keil) defend a date in the time of Judah’s most wicked king, Manasseh.228 They cite the degraded moral and spiritual level of that time (2 Kings 21:1-16; 2 Chron. 33:1-10), an era whose debauchery was so pronounced that it drew God’s declaration that He would effect a total “disaster on Jerusalem and Judah” (2 Kings 21:12).

A seventh-century date for Habakkuk’s prophecy has by no means carried the day among nonevangelical scholars. The setting of the book has been variously assigned to dates between the ninth century B.C. and the Maccabean period. Complicating the question of the book’s setting is the matter of its composition and compilation (see Literary Features).

An early rabbinic tradition speculated that Habakkuk was the son of the Shunammite woman who lived in the days of Elisha and King Jehoram of Israel (852-841 B.C.; cf. 2 Kings 4:16). At the other end of the spectrum, Paul Haupt decided for the Maccabean era, dating it to a time shortly after Judas Maccabeus’s victory over Nicanor in 161 B.C.

Most critical scholars have suggested a date that more clearly reflects the apparent subject of the prophecy, the Chaldeans of the Neo-Babylonian era. These may be conveniently catalogued into those who favor a preexilic period and those who prefer a later period. Among the former may be cited Budde and Eissfeldt, who date Habakkuk to the later reign of Josiah (c. 625-612 B.C.). The reign of Jehoiakim (608-597 B.C.) is favored by such scholars as Albright, Bewer, Humbert, Nielsen, and von Rad. An exilic date is supported by many, including Giesebrecht, Lods, Sellin, and Wellhausen, all of whom, however, isolate certain portions of the book as being earlier prophetic material that was utilized by the author/compiler of the prophecies, who lived in the latter half of the seventh century B.C.229 More radical is the view of B. Duhm (followed by C. C. Torrey) that the book has a fourth-century provenience. Duhm relates the book’s message to the campaigning of Alexander the Great and sees in the reference to the Kasdîm in 1:6 a corruption of Kittîm, a term used to designate Cypriots or Greeks in general. He also conjectures that the word “wine” in 2:5 (yayin) should be read as “Greek” ( ya„wa„n). Interestingly enough, 1QpHap also interprets the Kasdîm of 1:6 as Kittîm, although the term probably meant the Romans.230 Contrary to Duhm’s speculation, however, the text of the Habakkuk scroll actually reads Kasdîm even while interpreting it as Kittîm.

In the face of such diversity of opinion, final certainty as to the setting of this prophecy is elusive. The book is related to a time of internal wickedness in Judah and to an era anticipating the rise of the Neo-Babylonian empire. These factors suggest a preexilic setting. A key factor in the discussion is the precise force of 1:5-6 (q.v.). Although the case is far from settled, it seems that these data will have their fullest force if one holds to either (1) the position that sees the events described as taking place in the early period of Josiah’s rule or (2) the older Jewish view that locates Habakkuk in the time of Manasseh.

Perhaps the latter suggestion has the most to commend it, particularly if it can be demonstrated that both Zephaniah and Jeremiah knew and utilized Habakkuk’s prophecy (cf. Hab. 1:8 with Jer. 4:13; 5:6; Hab. 2:10 with Jer. 51:58; Hab. 2:12 with Jer. 22:13-17; Hab. 2:20 with Zeph. 1:7). According to this scenario, because Manasseh was carried away into captivity in the later part of his reign and subsequently repented and initiated several religious reforms, a date for the book shortly before the western campaigns of King Ashurbanipal of Assyria in 652 B.C. and thereafter would not be far from wrong. So understood, the book’s setting is the same basic time period as that of Nahum, an era of great internal wickedness in Judah, a period denoted externally as the Pax Assyriaca, an age that antedates the rise of the predicted instrument of divine chastening, the Chaldeans, by a full generation.231


Even though the traditional setting of the book and its literary integrity can be defended with some degree of certainty,232 the identity of the prophet Habakkuk remains a mystery. Some have sought his identity in proposed etymologies. Thus, by relating his name to the Assyrian plant called the h¬ambaqu„„qu and by noting certain literary data in 2:2, Reiser theorizes that Habakkuk had been educated in Nineveh. A relationship with the root חָבַק ( h£a„baq) “embrace” has occasioned the suggestion that Elisha gave the promise to the Shunammite who was Habakkuk’s mother that “about this time next year you will embrace a son” (2 Kings 4:16). The first suggestion is specious at best and the second is historically impossible.233 So also is the LXX tradition found in the title to the first century B.C. additions to Daniel entitled Bel and the Dragon that Habakkuk was the “son of Jesus of the tribe of Levi.”234 Equally improbable is the conjecture, accomplished by relating Hab. 2:1 with Isa. 21:6, that “watchman” Habakkuk is Isaiah’s prophetic successor.

The later Jews were fascinated with Habakkuk not only because of his unusual name but because of his questioning of God,235 together with the recording of the divine denunciation of the Chaldeans. In addition to the above mentioned case of Bel and the Dragon (which in one LXX tradition depicts Habakkuk as a Levite prophet whom the angel of the Lord lifted up by the hair to bring him with a bowl of boiled pottage to Daniel, who had been thrown into the lions’ den),236 preserved among the Dead Sea scrolls is a commentary on the first two chapters of Habakkuk (1QpHab). Written in pesher style, it proceeds by quoting a small portion of the text of Habakkuk followed by the author’s comments on the quoted material in the light of current events. Neither of these sources helps to identify Habakkuk further than confirming his prophetic status. Some, however, have seen in the identification of Habakkuk as “the son of Jesus of the tribe of Levi” a later historical confirmation of possible Levitical associations, a relationship hinted at in the musical notations in Habakkuk 3.

Was Habakkuk, then, a Levite?237 Was he at least a prophet of the cultus, as many (e.g., Humbert, Lindblom) confidently affirm?238 Though the scriptural evidence indicates that Levites functioned in a musical ministry in the Temple (1 Chron. 6:31-48; 15:16-24; 16:4-6, 37, 41-42; 23:5; 25:1-8), a fact that accords well with the musical notations in chap. 3, and although the Scriptures attest the existence of prophets who were also priests (e.g., Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zephaniah),239 a lack of proof makes it impossible to say more than that Habakkuk was a prophet who likely lived in Judah in the seventh century B.C. and who was burdened by what he perceived to be the divine indifference to the moral decay and spiritual apostasy that surrounded him (1:2-4). Nevertheless, these concerns reveal a great deal about Habakkuk the man. He was a person of deep spiritual longings that included a high view of God’s essential power, dignity, and worth as well as of the basic importance of God’s moral standards for mankind. He had a righteous hatred for sin and the resultant personal immorality and social breakdown that it caused. He was a man who was secure enough in his own spiritual condition not only to lay before his God some hard questions that perplexed him but also to respond in humility and submissiveness when those concerns were answered. In the final analysis, Habakkuk was one whose trust in God could triumph through times of testing and questioning and could find God Himself to be sufficient for life’s experiences (3:16-18).

Literary Context

Literary Features

The central focus of Habakkuk’s prophecy is on the relation of a sovereign and holy God to a sinful world, where society is permeated by godlessness and injustice. That theme becomes apparent in its development in the perplexities (1:2-4, 12-17), petitions (3:2b), remarks (2:1; 3:2a, 16-18), and praises (3:3-15) of the prophet as well as in the divine responses (1:5-11; 12-20). Assuredly the truth of God’s sovereign and just supervision of the affairs of the ages and all people according to His wise and holy purposes, directing them to their appointed end, flows through Habakkuk’s prophecies. Indeed, it is this realization that gives the book a proper perspective. The theme of divine teleology is implied in the prophet’s perplexities (1:2-4; 1:12-2:1) and God’s replies (1:5-11; 2:2-20), where it is deliberated and defended, and also in the prophet’s affirmation (3:2a) and rehearsal of God’s greatness (3:3-15) and closing note of praise (3:16-19), where it is demonstrated and applied. Accordingly the book’s theme must always be read in the light of its theological orientation.

The theme can be seen immediately in the prophet’s opening characterization of the state of affairs in his day. Habakkuk can understand neither the gross sin of Judah nor God’s seeming indifference to the rampant corruption he sees all around him (1:2-4).

The theme continues as Habakkuk’s initial statement of perplexity is followed by the recording of God’s answer to his dilemma. Much to Habakkuk’s amazement, God is about to judge Judah’s sin by sending the Chaldeans, a ferocious, vicious people (1:5-11). The theme next faces a test as to its equity. God’s answer to Habakkuk’s problem only raises a second question: How could a holy God use as an instrument of chastisement a nation that was even more wicked than Judah? For God to do so would be like making all people (including Judahites) defenseless sea creatures that fishermen (the Chaldeans) gleefully take up in their nets (conquests). Further, because such fishermen know no god but their net, how could God’s holy purposes be realized? Still further, since God Himself was sending them, how could they ever be stopped (1:12-2:1)?

The book’s theme finds further development in 2:2-20 as Habakkuk reveals not only God’s reply to his perplexity but also some important principles of divine government. God first instructs Habakkuk to “write down the revelation,” for His answer will transcend the local and temporal bounds of Habakkuk’s concern (2:2-3). The Lord next puts forward the principles upon which His answer will be based—namely, that one of the purposes of His ordering of the government of earth’s history is that both classes of men—the righteous and the unrighteous—may be seen in clear distinction. Not only in Judah but also everywhere else the righteous one “will live by his faith(fulness)” and the unrighteous one will perish in his godless greed (2:4-5).

The rest of the chapter is concerned with an application of these principles to the case of the Chaldeans (2:5), the bulk of it being devoted to a description of the causes for which the unrighteous Chaldeans will themselves be judged (2:6-20). Behind the changing scenes of the stage of earth’s activities the author of the drama of earth’s history is directing all things to their just and appointed end. Accordingly all people are admonished to “be silent” before Him who alone is God and is “in His holy Temple” (2:20).

The theme of the book finds illustration and application in the closing chapter (3). To the double answer of God to Habakkuk’s perplexities there is first appended a further divine instruction. The knowledge that God is truly sovereign and in control of all things made Habakkuk “stand in awe” of God’s deeds. He humbly prayed that God, in meting out His justice, would meet His people in mercy (3:2). Habakkuk then records his contemplation of a victory psalm that recounts God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt, His preservation of them through the time of their wilderness wanderings, and His triumphal leading of them in the conquest of the Promised Land (3:3-15). The rehearsal of that epic material commemorating the age of the Exodus brought a further sense of awe and humility to Habakkuk. Such a great God could be trusted to accomplish His purposes with all nations and peoples. Therefore, though calamity must come, Habakkuk would wait patiently and confidently. He would also abide in the Lord’s strength for His sovereign and perfect will to be effected (3:16-19).

The composition and arrangement of Habakkuk’s prophecy reflect well the basic theme of the book. The deliberation and defense of the theme in the first two chapters are given in a dialogue style, recording the discussions between the prophet and his God. The book opens with a carefully crafted unit utilizing the genre of lament (1:2-4).240 The section contains the customary features of introductory invocation (v. 2) and a statement of the problem or crisis that precipitated the plaintiff’s cry (vv. 3-4) as well as an implied petition: “God, won’t you please do something about this terrible situation?” Likewise Habakkuk’s second perplexity (1:12-2:1) as to God’s use of the rapacious Chaldeans contains the normal elements of lament: invocation (v. 12), a statement of the problem (vv. 13-17), and a closing affirmation of confidence in God (2:1). Like the first lament it also implies a petition: “Can’t you find some other agent of chastisement?”

The other participant in the dialogue—God—is introduced in two sections recording the divine answers to Habakkuk’s questions. These units also show careful literary construction. In the first instance (1:5-11) God gives to Habakkuk not only a solution to his perplexity (God will send the Chaldeans to deal with Judah’s sin, vv. 5-6) but also an accompanying description of the ability of His agent of judgment to deliver the required punishment (vv. 7-11). God’s second answer (2:2-20) is also given in a distinctive format: introductory formula (v. 2a), preliminary instructions (vv. 2b-3), general guiding principles (v. 4), and particular detailed application (vv. 5-20). The latter portion takes up the bulk of chap. 2 and constitutes a series of taunt songs (vv. 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17, 18-20) against the Chaldeans. The taunts are presented in the form of a series of woes, each containing several of the characteristic features of woe oracles, including invective (vv. 6, 9, 12, 15, 19a), threat (vv. 7, 11, 13, 16, 20), and criticism (vv. 8, 10, 14, 17, 18, 19b).241

Each major unit of chaps. 1-2 is composed such that the two perplexities of the prophet are begun with a question (1:2, 12) and each of the answers starts with an imperative (1:5; 2:2). Moreover, the two chapters are threaded together with the stitch-words מִשְׁפָּט ( misŒpa„t£, “justice/judgment/law,” 1:4, 7, 12), צַדִּיק ( s£addîq, “righteous,” 1:4, 13; 2:4),242 בּוֹגֵד/ בּוֹגְדִים ( bo‚geŒdîm/ bo‚ge„d, “treacherous/betrays,” 1:13; 2:5), and אָסַף ( áa„sap, “gather,” 1:9, 15; 2:5) as well as verbs of seeing (1:3, 5, 13). Individual units in the first two chapters likewise have distinctive characteristics. Thus 1:12-2:1 is bookended with the idea of reproof, and the Lord’s second reply is constructed with enclosing statements that contrast the unrighteous Chaldeans with the righteous who live by faith, mindful of God in His holy Temple (2:4, 20).

With the third chapter it is obvious that the book’s central theme has received an entirely different setting. Gone is the dialogue style with its questions and answers as well as such features as lament, taunts, and woes. In their place one finds chiefly prayer and praise, and especially a long victory ode that retells in epic fashion God’s leading of His people in triumph out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the land of promise (3:3-15). The epic poem is of particular interest in that it is composed of different Hebrew than the rest of the book. Indeed, it contains some rare words and difficult grammatical constructions not representative of standard classical Hebrew. It is apparent that the material belongs to an older stage of the language. The evidence for its archaic setting is as follows.

First are numerous cases of defective spelling in the interior of words, as pointed out by W. F. Albright.243 Next are various early grammatical elements and poetic devices: (1) the lack of the definite article; (2) the t-imperfect used with duals or collectives (v. 4); (3) the use of the old pronominal suffix ־ה (vv. 4, 11); (4) the employment of enclitic -m (v. 8);244 (5) the frequent appearance of the old preterite prefix-conjugation verbs (vv. 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14) in variation with the suffix-conjugation; (6) the use of the ל of possession in inverted predicate position in a nonverbal sentence (v. 6); and (7) the use of structured tricola employing climactic parallelism (vv. 4, 6b, 7, 8a, 10, 11, 13b) to mark major divisions (vv. 6b-7, 8) or subdivisions (vv. 4, 10, 11, 13b, 14) within the poem.

One may notice also the use of parallel expressions and set terms held in common in Ugaritic and the corpus of old Hebrew poetry: אֶרֶץ / שָׁמַיִם (v. 3), פָּנִים/ קֶרֶן (vv. 4-5), עוֹלָם גִּבְעוֹת/ הַרְרֵי־עַד (v. 6), יָם/ נָהָר, מֶרְכָּבָה/ סוּס (v. 8), מַטֶּה/ קֶשֶׁת (v. 9), קוֹל/ תְּהוֹם, נָשָׂא/ נָתַן (v. 10), יָרֵחַ/ שֶׁמֶשׁ, בָּרָק/ חֵץ (v. 11). Also to be noted is the use of a vocabulary commonly found in older poetic material: אֱלוֹהַ, קָדוֹשׁ, הַר־פָּארָן, שָׁמַיִם (v. 3), חָוָה (v. 6), אָוֶן, רָגַז (v. 7), אַף, רָכַב (v. 8), מַיִם ( זֶרֶם), תְּהוֹם, קוֹל (v. 10), אַף (v. 12), מַטֶּה, רֹאשׁ, פָּרַז (v. 14), and רַבִּים מַיִם, יָם (v. 15).245

No less significant is the presence of themes common to the body of Ugaritic and early Old Testament poetic literature: (1) the Lord’s movement from the southland (v. 3; cf. Deut. 33:1-2; Judg. 5:4; Ps. 68:8 [HB]); (2) the presence of the heavenly assemblage (v. 5; cf. Deut. 33:2-3); (3) the shaking of the terrestial and celestial worlds at God’s presence (vv. 6, 10-11; cf. Judg. 5:4-5; Pss. 18:8-9, 13-15 [HB]); 68:34 [HB]; 77:18-20 [HB]; 144:5-6); (4) the Lord’s anger against sea and river (v. 8; cf. Ex. 15:8; Ps. 18:8, 16 [HB]); (5) the Lord’s presence riding the clouds (v. 8; cf. Ex. 15:4; Pss. 18:11-12 [HB]; 68:5, 34 [HB]); (6) the fear of the enemy at the Lord’s advance (vv. 7, 10?; cf. Ex. 15:14-16; Pss. 18:8 [HB]; 77:18-20 [HB]); (7) the Lord’s fighting against the boastful (v. 14; cf. Ex. 15:9) enemy (vv. 9, 11, 13-14; cf. Ex. 15:3, 6; Ps. 77:19 [HB]) so as to deliver His people (vv. 13-15; cf. Pss. 18:38-39, 41 [HB]; 68:8 [HB] with Ex. 15:10, 12-13).246

The poetry of these verses is drawn from two separate compositions. That there are two poems here can be seen both from their differing themes and from the syntax of the respective material. The first section (vv. 3-7) describes God’s leading of His heavenly and earthly hosts from the south in an awe-inspiring theophany. It is marked structurally by the repeated use of the coordinator waw to tie together its thought associations. The second section (vv. 8-15) constitutes a victory song commemorating the conquest itself and points to the basis of that success in the Exodus, particularly in the victory at the Red Sea. Structurally no waw coordinator is used, thought associations being accomplished through variations in sentence structure, including change of word order and the skillful employment of tricola.

These poems bear the marks of genuine epic,247 employing epic themes and style throughout. The central focus is on a hero—God Himself. The first poem (vv. 3-7) relates the account of an epic journey, God’s leading of His people from the southland toward Canaan, the land of promise. The poet calls attention to God’s command of nature in awesome theophany (vv. 3-4), to His companions (v. 5), to His earth-shaking power (v. 6), and to the effect of all this on the inhabitants of the land (v. 7).

The second poem (vv. 8-15) transcends the bounds of the movement from Egypt to the Jordan (cf. Ps. 114:3-5), the phraseology being best understood as including God’s miraculous acts in the conquest period as well. God’s victories at the end of the Exodus account are rehearsed first (vv. 8-11), possibly reflecting such deeds as the triumph at the Red Sea (Ex. 15) and at the Jordan (Josh. 3-4) as well as the victories at the Wadi Kishon (Judg. 4-5) and Gibeon (Josh. 10).248 The poet then describes the victory that gave Israel its deliverance and eventual conquest of Canaan: the triumph in Israel’s exodus from Egypt (vv. 12-15).

Epic elements can also be seen in these two poems in the use of literary features common to the epic genre: static epithets, set parallel terms, and the vocabulary and themes common to the commemoration of the Exodus.249 Thus, whether in terms of subject matter or literary style, Habakkuk’s twofold psalm deserves to be recognized as an epic remnant. Habakkuk has employed epic material to illustrate and validate his thesis that God is in control of earth’s unfolding history and, as in the past, He may be expected to deal justly with His covenant nation, which He has instructed to live by its faith(fulness, 2:4) and to “be silent before him” (2:20).

One might also make a reasonable case for the third chapter’s being considered a teŒpilla‚—a prayer. Indeed, many of the features common to this type of poetry (cf. Pss. 17, 86, 90, 102, 143) are present: opening cry/statement of praise, attestation of reverence/trust (v. 2a), petition/problem (v. 2b), praise and exaltation of God (vv. 3-15), statement of trust and confidence in God (vv. 16-18), and concluding note of praise (v. 19). These are developed to settle the prophet’s concerns and to assure his readers that God is in control of earth’s history, guiding the destinies of nations and all mankind in accordance with His holy and wise purposes.

Although a diversity of style between the first two chapters of Habakkuk and chap. 3 has been demonstrated, in a deeper sense the final chapter is a necessary corollary and conclusion to the prophet’s wrestlings of the first two chapters. One wonders whether the central theophany of 3:3-15 is not only a result of the prophet’s prayer (3:2) but also the anticipated outcome of the prophetic expectations (2:2, 20).

Before leaving the discussion on literary matters, note something of the richness of the literary features that Habakkuk uses. In addition to the employment of taunt songs, woe, and epic poetry previously mentioned, one may find such literary forms as the proverb (1:9; 2:6) and such literary figures as simile and metaphor (1:8, 9, 11, 14-17; 2:5, 7, 8, 15, 16; 3:4, 8-10, 11, 14, 19), allegory (2:15-16), metonymy (2:5; 3:2, 9), merismus (3:7), hendiadys (1:15?; 2:2?), hyperbole (1:6-11; 3:6, 11), paronomasia (2:19; 3:13-14a), personification (1:7-11; 2:5, 11; 3:1, 5, 7, 10), rhetorical question (1:12; 2:13, 18; 3:8), repetition for effect (1:15b-17), and synecdoche (3:7) as well as such structural devices as alliteration and assonance (1:6, 10; 2:6, 7, 15, 18; 3:2), enjambment (1:13; 2:18; 3:4, 16), gender-matched parallelism (2:5; 3:3), staircase parallelism (3:8), climactic parallelism (3:2), pivot-pattern parallelism (1:17), and chiasmus (1:2, 3, 4; 2:1, 6, 9, 14, 16; 3:3).

If Habakkuk does not reach the literary artistry of Nahum, it may be due to the nature of the prophet’s spiritual odyssey that often approximates the Israelite wisdom literature in sentiment and expression. Habakkuk’s wrestling with the problem of the justice of God finds its most able format in the utilization of a dialogue style that is almost narrative in quality. His familiarity with and employment of epic traditional material, however, demonstrates that Habakkuk is not without poetic sensitivity (cf. 3:16-19). A careful literary reading of his prophecy will pay rich dividends in understanding.


Superscription (1:1)

I. The Prophet’s Perplexities and God’s Explanations (1:2-2:20)

A. First Perplexity: How Can God Disregard Judah’s Sin? (1:2-4)

B. First Explanation: God Will Judge Judah Through the Chaldeans (1:5-11)

C. Second Perplexity: How Can God Employ the Wicked Chaldeans? (1:12-2:1)

D. Second Explanation: God Controls All Nations According to His Purposes (2:2-20)

1. Preliminary instructions (2:2-3)

2. Guiding principles (2:4)

3. Specific applications (2:5-20)

a. The case of the Chaldeans (2:5)

b. The first woe: The plundering Chaldean will be despoiled (2:6-8)

c. The second woe: The plotting Chaldean will be denounced (2:9-11)

d. The third woe: The pillaging Chaldean will be destroyed (2:12-14)

e. The fourth woe: The perverting Chaldean will be disgraced (2:15-17)

f. The fifth woe: The polytheistic Chaldean will be deserted by his idols (2:18-20)

II. The Prophet’s Prayer and God’s Exaltation (3:1-19)

A. The Prophet’s Prayer for the Redeemer’s Pity (3:1-2)

B. The Prophet’s Praise of the Redeemer’s Person (3:3-15)

1. The Redeemer’s coming (3:3-7)

a. His appearance (3:3-4)

b. His actions (3:5-7)

2. The Redeemer’s conquest (3:8-15)

a. His power as seen at the waters (3:8-9b)

b. His power as seen in the natural world (3:9c-11)

c. His power as seen by the enemy (3:12-15)

C. The Prophet’s Pledge to the Redeemer’s Purposes (3:16-19)

1. A statement of the prophet’s trust in the Redeemer (3:16-18)

2. A concluding note of praise to the Redeemer (3:19)


Although related to matters of date and authorship (q.v.), the problem of the unity of the book is primarily literary. Recent scholarship has largely conceded that Habakkuk has been given its present unity250 through such things as subject matter (e.g., the downfall of the godless and the prophet’s trust in God), motifs (e.g., righteous[ness] vs. wicked[ness]), and vocabulary (e.g., [all] the nation[s]—1:5, 17; 2:5; 3:6, 16; the [whole] earth—1:6; 2:4, 20; 3:3, 5, 9; people[s]—1:6, 7; 2:10; 3:13), but many still deny an original unity of composition. For example, Eissfeldt acknowledges the essential authorship and resultant unity of the book but nevertheless asserts that

we must therefore regard the book of Habakkuk as a loose collection of a group of songs of lamentation and oracles (i, 2-ii, 4), a series of six cries of woe (ii, 5-20), and the prayer of iii, which all stem from the same prophet Habakkuk, probably a cult-prophet, and originated in approximately the same period.251

Particularly worrisome to the unity of the composition has been the identity of the wicked in 1:2-4 and 1:13-17. Earlier critical scholarship tended to solve the problem by excising 1:5-11 and relegating it to an earlier prophetic work that supposedly had become associated with the Habakkuk material and subsequently inserted into the text.252 Also troublesome was the obvious literary difference of the material in chap. 3, a chapter whose authenticity was further called into doubt by its failure to be included in 1QpHab.

As for the first problem, the identity of the wicked becomes a difficulty only by attempting to make it refer to the same group in both passages. Traditional scholarship has held that the wicked referred to in 1:2-4 are Judah’s citizens but are the Babylonians in 1:13-17, those whom God was to employ in punishing the wicked Judahites (1:5-11). So viewed, 1:5-11 does not need to be deleted and the unity of the first two chapters is preserved. This is the simplest understanding and one that has enjoyed endorsement by critics of all persuasions.253

With regard to the problem of chap. 3, although it was not utilized by the author of 1QpHab, this may be due either to its incorporation of epic material inappropriate to the situation and purposes of the Dead Sea community or to the difficulty of its language that so obscured primary interpretation that midrashic application could scarcely proceed smoothly. Further, since as W. H. Brownlee has pointed out the authenticity of the third chapter is unquestionable, being attested sufficiently long before the date of 1QpHab, its absence from the Qumran manuscript cannot be accounted for on the basis of date.254 Nor need its absence be attributed to matters of unity or composition. Indeed, as Eissfeldt acknowledges,

There are in fact no substantial arguments against deriving the poem from Habakkuk, and even the fact that the Habakkuk ‘Commentary’ from Qumra„n limits its ‘exposition’ to chs. i-ii and leaves ch. iii out of account, is not a decisive argument. For this does not by any means have to be taken as indicating that at the time of the composition of the commentary, c. 100 B.C., ch. iii did not yet belong to the book of Habakkuk. There are many other possibilities which are to be preferred to this.255

Still further, several internal data support the unity of chap. 3 with chaps. 1 and 2. (1) As noted previously, a demonstrable unity of subject matter, theme, and vocabulary exists in the book. C. Armerding has provided an extensive list of words, ideas, and themes that can be perceived in all three chapters:

Common features include their headings (1:1; 3:1); the lament form underlying their prayers (1:2-4, 12-2:1; 3:1-2); the preoccupation with salvation, triumphantly vindicated in the final chapter ( ya„sŒaà, 1:2, 3:8, 13 [bis], 18); the judgment on domestic sin through a foreign nation (1:2-11; 3:2, 14-17); the “wicked” ( ra„sŒa„à, 1:13; 3:13) and their intent to “devour” ( áa„kal, 1:8; 3:14); the concomitant disruption of the “nations” (1:5-17; 2:5-17; cf. 3:6-7, 12); the “revelation” that forms the turning point in the prophet’s intercession (2:23; 3:3-15); the resultant promise of judgment ensuing on that nation (2:3-20; 3:12-16), as on a “house” destined to be razed to its foundations ( bayi t, 2:9-10; 3:13; cf. 2:9-13; 3:13); the transformation effected by this promise, promoting both faith and patience (2:2-4; 3:16-19); the anticipation of God’s universal reign (2:14; 3:3); and the common basis on the covenant, particularly Deuteronomy 28-32, that shapes the pattern outlined above.256

(2) A common perspective pervades the whole: the prophet interacting personally with his God (cf. 1:2-3, 5, 12-13; 2:1, 2-3, 4; 3:2, 16). Even the prophet’s stance of 3:17-19 seems clearly to have been anticipated in 2:2. (3) Only with the closing verses of the third chapter is there a satisfactory conclusion to all of the prophet’s uncertainties.

Though all this does not guarantee the original compositional unity of the whole book, it does argue strongly for it, particularly as these data are considered in light of its carefully crafted literary structure. One wonders whether anyone but the author could have designed the whole. Perhaps P. C. Craigie has understated the case in remarking that “despite the disparate nature of the contents there need be few doubts as to the unity of the book.”257

Occasion, Purpose, And Teachings

If the above conclusions with regard to the date and authorship of Habakkuk’s prophecy are more or less accurate, the book has its origin in recounting the prophet’s intense personal experience with God. Specifically it records Habakkuk’s spiritual perplexities as to God’s seeming indifference in an era of moral decay and spiritual apostasy, and God’s patient responses to his prophet. The book also rehearses Habakkuk’s theophanic experience that came as a climax to his spiritual wrestling and the prophet’s victorious movement from a position of questioning God to one of casting himself upon his Redeemer. If Habakkuk was also a Levite or in some way connected with the Temple cultus, the book’s final prayer and theophany were of such a magnitude to Habakkuk personally that he set them down in words and form intended for use in Temple worship. In any event, the whole prophecy is designed to serve as an exemplary testimony of God’s continued concern for His people and His dealings in the affairs of all mankind.

As one contemplates the message and teachings of Habakkuk, it seems clear that the book has several other purposes. Some are doubtless connected with the prophet’s desire to convey theological insights gained during his spiritual odyssey (see Theological Context). Habakkuk’s short prophecy is also a rich mine for ethical principles, such as the availability of God for the questioning believer (1:2-4, 5; 2:1-3), God’s absolute standard of holiness for personal conduct (1:12-13), God’s use of human conventions and institutions to accomplish His holy purposes (1:6), God’s bringing into account the actions of all nations and peoples (2:6-10), and a life of faith as a basic guide for the righteous individual (2:4).

In agreement with this latter purpose, Habakkuk also wishes to convey wise counsel to his readers. Several themes deal with divine justice, such as the problem of human sin and suffering in their relation to divine sovereignty and the problems of morality and social justice in the face of the demand for holiness.258 These come through most forcefully in Habakkuk’s second encounter with God (1:12-2:20). Here Habakkuk decries God’s use of a less holy instrument (the Chaldeans) to chastise God’s people for their unholy actions and is told plainly that man needs to leave such cases to God. The Lord will in turn deal with that unholy instrument, but meanwhile the righteous person is to live a life of faith (2:4) and devotion (2:20), being mindful of God’s ultimate purposes (2:14).

In God’s answers to Habakkuk, He gives him wise insight into the basic issues of life for individuals and societies:259 wealth is not in itself wrong, but unjust gain will not be tolerated (2:6-11); civic growth and prosperity are not condemnable but cannot be accomplished at the expense of mankind’s rights (2:14-20); the misuse of another person to gain one’s own ends is despicable (2:15-17). The individual is also reminded that anything he puts ahead of God’s rightful place as the center of his life is idolatry (2:18-20). This last point serves as the culminating observation to a discussion of the spiritual and social evils for which Babylon must be judged and touches upon another major theme in the book—the problem of evil:

Thus the problem of the book is the problem of evil—in world history, in the church, in the human heart, the realization that every human “solution” contains the seed of its own dissolution and often only exacerbates the problem.... Pagan dualism and fatalism could (and can) always attribute the problem to other “gods” or inscrutable forces immanent in the universe, but a monotheistic belief in one righteous and holy God must somehow reconcile the continued power of evil with His governance—and perhaps ultimately with His very existence.260

The issue of war forms a subpurpose in the book. Whereas Habakkuk seemingly is concerned not so much about warfare per se as he is about God’s employment of an unholy nation against His people, the theophany of chap. 3 revealing a triumphant God in holy warfare is a reminder to Habakkuk (and to all) that extreme times call for strong measures. God Himself must at times enter human history, using such social conventions as warfare to accomplish His purpose (3:13) in order that ultimately the earth may be “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (2:14). Such knowledge justifies neither deliberate aggression nor warfare itself as a norm for relations between peoples.261

As indicated above, Habakkuk wishes his experiences to be exemplary. The normal human being will be an inquisitive person, even at times calling God into question. Habakkuk had experienced honest doubts but was reminded that such an experience was not to be normative. Rather, a consideration of all the evidence, including the Person, nature, and work of God, should be a reminder that the God who will do right needs to be the God of the whole life.262 When this is understood the believer will respond in adoration (2:20) and faith (2:4), waiting patiently and joyfully for God’s glorious (2:14) purposes to be realized both in the world and in the lives of all its inhabitants (3:16-19).

Text And Canonicity

The MT of Habakkuk contains many difficulties. In addition to the obscurities in the third chapter (in which alone Albright proposed more than three dozen “corrections”263), several hapax legomena occur elsewhere (e.g., 1:4, 9; 2:11). There are also grammatical (2:4) and scribal problems (2:16). It is small wonder, then, that the text of the LXX differs often from that of the MT. In addition, significant differences from the MT have been noted in 1QpHab. Thus Würthwein remarks: “Some sixty examples of its deviations from M which are more than purely orthographical (e.g., scriptio plena) are cited in the third apparatus of BHK.”264 Even so conservative a scholar as R. K. Harrison admits that “the text of the prophecy has not been particularly well preserved, and contains some obscurities, a fact that is also true of the Qumran text.”265

On the other hand, one must not overly dramatize the textual difficulties. In addition to Albright’s pioneering efforts, many have labored successfully in bringing better understanding to the consonantal text of the third chapter.266 As for the variation between the MT and 1QpHab, though the evidence points to some fluidity in the Hebrew textual tradition (a condition that was soon altered with the adoption of the MT267) one must not set aside the MT in too cavalier a fashion. As Würthwein points out:

Our main interest centers on M. In every instance it deserves special attention because it is based on direct transmission in the original language, and it has been handed down with great care.... Any deviation from it therefore requires justification.... The question whether M can be faulted either linguistically or materially is to be decided at times only after intensive investigations. Specifically, if a reading of M is rejected, every possible interpretation of it must first have been fully examined.268

When due allowance is made, then, despite the presence of a few individual textual problems one may say with R. Smith, “The Hebrew text of Habakkuk is in fair shape.”269

If the problems concerning the text of Habakkuk are somewhat unsettling, the issue of Habakkuk’s canonicity is not. The early canonization of all the OT prophetical books appears to be unquestionable. Habakkuk, as one of the twelve Minor Prophets, enjoyed full acceptance as part of the OT canon.270 Armerding’s declaration is apropos:

Habakkuk was early grouped with the other so-called Minor Prophets in the Book of the Twelve (attested as such in Ecclus 49:10 [c. 190 B.C.]), the acceptance of which is never questioned, either in Jewish or Christian circles. Questions of the unity of the book do not seem to have affected its acceptance, and in fact there is no ancient record of a dispute over chapter 3.271

Theological Context

It was suggested earlier that one of the purposes of the book of Habakkuk was to convey theological truth. Indeed, Habakkuk tells his readers certain facts concerning God’s Person and work. He informs his readers that the everlasting (1:12; 3:3, 6) God of glory (2:14; 3:3-4) is sovereign (2:20) over all individuals and nations (1:5, 14; 2:6-19; 3:3-15), guiding them according to His predetermined purpose to bring glory to Himself (2:14). God is a God of holiness (1:12-13; 2:20; 3:3) and justice (1:12-13; 2:4) who, although He judges godlessness and injustice (1:2-11; 2:5-19; 3:12-15), in mercy often tempers His righteous anger against sin (3:2, 8, 12). A God of omnipotence (3:4-7, 8-15), He works for the deliverance and salvation of His people (3:13, 18). A God of revelation (1:1; 2:2-3), He hears the cries and prayers (1:2-4, 12-17; 2:1; 3:1-2) of His own and answers them (1:5-11; 2:4-20; 3:3-15). As a result of all his experiences, Habakkuk came to learn that the issues of life and death rest with God and that the righteous individual will by faith (2:4-5) come to realize that God is sufficient for every situation (3:16-19).

The book of Habakkuk likewise gives instruction as to the nature of man’s relationship with God. It demonstrates God’s displeasure with immorality and injustice (1:2-11) and with such sins as greed, stealing, plundering, violence, bloodshed and murder, taking advantage of others, drunkenness, and idolatry (2:5-19). It also teaches that one can know God’s salvation (3:18) through faith (2:4). Above all, the individual needs to learn to trust God and let Him be God of his whole life (3:16).

Habakkuk’s prophecy also reminds the believer of the possibility of an intimate communion with God that can overcome his deepest depression and darkest seasons of doubt (1:2-4; 1:12-2:1). God hears and answers prayer (2:1-4; 3:2, 16). The believer may thus live a life of faith (2:4), walking before Him in patient trust (3:16-17) and joyful service (3:18-19).

The Prophet’s Perplexities and God’s Explanations, Part One
(Habakkuk 1:1-2:1)

Habakkuk’s messages deal with the problems of individual and national sin in the face of a sovereign and holy God. In the opening section (vv. 2-4) the reader is introduced to a former crisis in the prophet’s spiritual experience. In contemplating the rampant immorality and social injustice that surrounded him, Habakkuk was disturbed at God’s seeming indifference and inactivity. Why had a holy God not brought the needed chastisement and correction to the people of Judah?

Habakkuk’s complaint occasioned a reply from a patient God. Not only would He do something, the judicial process was already underway. Although Habakkuk might find it hard to believe, it was nonetheless so. God was already raising up the ruthless Chaldeans to deal with sinful Judah (vv. 5-6).

But God’s description of the Chaldeans’ viciousness (vv. 7-11) raised for Habakkuk a further difficulty: How could a holy God use an unholy nation—indeed, a far more unholy people than Judah—to judge His people? (vv. 12-13). Habakkuk feared that, once set loose, such a destroyer could never be restrained, not only Judah but all nations falling victim to him (vv. 14-17). Despite his doubts, the prophet ends his remarks with a statement of his confidence in God (2:1).

From a literary standpoint, Habakkuk’s first major section includes an expression of the prophet’s perplexities (1:2-4; 1:12-2:1) alternating with the Lord’s responses (1:5-11; 2:2-20). Habakkuk’s questions are framed in the lament genre containing the commonly occurring elements of invocation (1:2, 12-13a), statement of the problem (1:3-4, 13b-17), and statement of prophetic confidence in God (2:1).

Other literary features utilized here are simile and metaphor (1:8, 9, 11, 14-17), hyperbole (1:6-11), personification (1:7-11), rhetorical question (1:12), hendiadys (1:15?), and proverb (1:9). Several structural devices also occur: alliteration and assonance (1:6, 10), enjambment (1:13), repetition for effect (1:15b-17), pivot-pattern parallelism (1:17?), and chiasmus (1:2, 3, 4; 2:1). The use of the stitch-words מִשְׁפָּט ( misŒpa„t£) and צַדִּיק ( s£addîq), as well as verbs of seeing, must also be noted.

Immediately after the notice of the source of his prophecy (1:1), Habakkuk plunges into a rehearsal of his spiritual wrestling with God. In so doing he tells his readers of his perplexities as to the divine working and of God’s answers to his questions (1:2-2:20). This chapter will consider Habakkuk’s superscription (1:1), his two questions, and God’s answer to the first (1:2-2:1).

Superscription (1:1)


The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.*

Exegesis and Exposition

Like Nahum, Habakkuk begins his messages by terming the whole an oracle, a word placed upon his heart by God that he must accurately convey to others. As did Nahum, Habakkuk assures his readers that what he was about to relate was not born of his own ingenuity but was that which God had revealed to him. Unlike Nahum, however, Habakkuk does not state that his message is specifically directed at any one individual or group of people, even though he will devote a great deal of space to a denunciation of the Chaldeans. Nor is any setting given, as in the case of Zephaniah’s superscription. Rather, because Habakkuk’s message is designated as that which he saw, the reader is alerted to the likelihood of the prophet’s personal experiences being involved in the account.

Additional Notes

1:1 †For the significance of the word ,מַשָּׂא see the additional note on Nahum 1:1. The joining of the verb חָזָה (“see”) to the noun מַשָּׂא has seemed difficult to some. A translation such as “received” (cf. NIV, NJB) has often been suggested. Though emphasis is frequently placed on a prophet’s delivery of a received communication (cf. Isa. 1:1), making such a translation appear to be correct, Habakkuk’s stress seems to be on his own participation in the revelatory process. The reader is thus perhaps prepared for the theophany of the third chapter and reminded that God’s prophet may have been an eyewitness to at least some of what God intends for him to communicate (cf. 2:2).

Nevertheless, however visionary the revelatory process might have been for the prophet, what he conveys is not merely his own impression of an event or series of events but the very words God wishes him to write (cf. Ps. 89:19 [HB 89:20]; Hos. 12:10 [HB 12:11]; Obad. 1; etc.). Such an understanding is in harmony with such texts as Isa. 30:10, which lay stress both on the prophet’s reception of God’s revelation and on his verbal communication of God’s message to his hearers.

In contrast to those who would tend to make the prophet’s participation in the revelatory process more passive,272 the view taken here finds the prophet more active.273 While God is held to be sovereign in revelation and inspiration, in cases of visionary experiences the prophet at times apparently sees what God intends to do, agrees with God’s revealed activities (sees them from God’s point of view), and conveys in his own words the very words and message that God intends to be communicated to the prophet’s audience. The verb חָזָה then, is appropriate, not only denoting what the prophet received and was passing on but also allowing for personal seeing of certain details, such as the theophany of 3:3-15.

The same root occurs in the noun חֲזוֹן (“vision”) in parallel with משָּׂא in the superscription to Nahum. There, too, though the word is used to express the words of revelation that Nahum is communicating, it may include actual visionary experiences.

A. First Perplexity: How Can God Disregard Judah’s Sin? (1:2-4)

Habakkuk at once plunges into a dramatic rehearsal of a time when the impact of Judah’s unchecked sin overwhelmed him. His questioning of God forms the backdrop for the examination of the relation of God’s holy standards to the operation of the divine providence that follows later.


How long*, O Lord*, have I cried for help*

      and You have not heard?

I cry out to You, “Violence!”

      but You do not save.

3Why do You make me look at iniquity

      while You behold* oppression?

Destruction and violence are before me;

      there is strife, and contention abounds.

4Therefore, (the) law* is benumbed*

      and justice* never goes forth;

Because the wicked engulf* the righteous,

      justice goes out perverted*.

Exegesis and Exposition

The nature of Habakkuk’s complaint to God, begun in the invocation (v. 2) and elaborated in the statement of the problem (vv. 3-4), can be better appreciated when one examines the four words he employs to describe his perception of Judahite society. חָמָס ( h£a„ma„s, “violence”)*, אָוֶן ( áa„„wen, “iniquity”), עָמָל ( àa„ma„l, “oppression”)*, and שֹׂד ( sŒo„d, “destruction”)* are strong words that contain moral and spiritual overtones. In order, they depict a society that is characterized by malicious wickedness (cf. Gen. 6:11, 13; Ps. 72:14), deceitful iniquity—both moral (cf. Job 34:36; Prov. 17:4; Isa. 29:20) and spiritual (cf. Isa. 66:3)—oppressive behavior toward others (cf. Isa. 10:1), and the general spiritual and ethical havoc that exists where such sin abounds (cf. Isa. 59:7). It is small wonder that, where such conditions persist, רִיב ( rîb, strife”) and מָדוֹז ( ma„do‚n, “contention”) are also rife. The former root implies quarrelsome talk (Gen. 31:36) or behavior (Ex. 17:2; Prov. 17:1) and appears often in a legal setting (e.g., Prov. 25:7-10; Isa. 27:7-9); the latter is used to denote a situation where dissension is present (Prov. 6:14; 16:28; 26:20; 28:25; 29:22).

In Habakkuk’s eyes, then, Judahite society was spiritually bankrupt and morally corrupt. Because sin abounded, injustice was the norm. Habakkuk describes the judicial situation in two ways: (1) Because of the basic spiritual condition, the operation of God’s law was sapped of the vital force necessary for it to guide man’s ethical and judicial decisions. Accordingly righteousness did not characterize Judahite society, and justice was never meted out. (2) Because the society itself had become godless, wicked men could so hem in the attempts and actions of the righteous that whatever justice existed was so twisted that the resultant decision was one of utter perversity.

Such a perception of life and society in Judah raises the question of the historical setting involved in the prophet’s description. As noted in the introduction, evangelical scholarship has suggested one of three periods to which these words might have referred: (1) the reign of Jehoiakim (608-598 B.C.), (2) the early days of Josiah (shortly after 640 B.C.), and (3) the reign of Manasseh (698-642 B.C.). In favor of the first suggestion is the known wickedness of Jehoiakim, who took advantage of his own people (Jer. 22:13-14) and also opposed all that was holy and decent, filling the land with violence and degradation (Jer. 8:18-9:16; 10:1-8; 11:1-17; 13:1-4; 23:9-40; 25:1-7; 36:1-32).

In favor of the second proposal is the known apostasy that Josiah was called upon to correct from the earliest days of his reign (2 Chron. 34:1-7) as well as the mute testimony of the Temple, which had fallen into such disrepair that its restoration called for the king’s special attention. Indirect evidence comes from the widespread reforms and revival that followed upon the finding of the Book of the Law in 621 B.C. (2 Chron. 34:23-35:19).

Supportive of the third alternative is the clear scriptural indication of extreme wickedness during the reign of Manasseh. According to 2 Kings 21:1-18 and 2 Chronicles 33:11-20, that evil king not only reinstituted the loathsome Canaanite worship practices of Asherah and Baal (which Hezekiah his father had done away with) but also introduced a state astral cult. He built pagan altars in the outer courts and priests’ courts and placed an Asherah pole within the Temple itself. He also indulged in sorcery, divination, and witchcraft as well as the abominable rites of infant sacrifice.274

Though all three views are possible and each has been espoused by evangelical scholars, the last view enjoys the support of Jewish tradition and, in light of the Lord’s reply that He would deal with the situation in a way that would amaze His prophet (1:5), is perhaps the most contextually suitable. It would also demand the most prophetic foresight. Accordingly, for these reasons and those suggested in the introduction, the third view will be followed provisionally in this commentary.275

These verses, then, underscore the prophet’s consternation as to the seeming divine indifference to all the debauchery he saw around him. R. D. Culver describes some of the thinking and fears that must have accompanied Habakkuk’s perplexities:

When magistrates permit murder, theft, fornication and the like to go unchecked and unpunished, God calls the whole nation to accounting. The unpunished crimes pollute the land, becoming a growing mortgage against all, upon which God may finally foreclose, driving some inhabitants away, destroying others and permitting different peoples to dwell in the land.276

Habakkuk was disturbed also by God’s silence with regard to his prophet’s repeated cries for help and intervention.

Additional understanding on this latter point may be gained by considering the relation of Habakkuk’s words to the well-known “call-answer motif. This theme is used often in the Scriptures to assure the believer that he may call upon God for refuge and protection in times of trouble and distress (Pss. 17:6-12; 20:6-9 [HB 20:7-10]; 81:6-7 [HB 81:7-8]; 91:14-16; 102:1-2 [HB 102:2-3]; 138:8). Further, he may find guidance from God (Ps. 99:6-7; Jer. 33:2-3) and experience intimate communion with Him both in this life and in the next (Job 14:14-15; Ps. 73:23-26). The motif also touches upon God’s future plans for Israel, which include full, restoration to divine fellowship (Isa. 65:24; Zech. 13:7-9).

Unfortunately this motif has its negative side as well. It teaches that when sin is present, God does not answer the one who calls upon Him (Ps. 66:18). The believer must honor God with his life (Ps. 4:1-3 [HB 4:2-4]) and call upon Him in truth (Ps. 145:17-20). Where there is godless living (Isa. 56:11-12), unconcern for the needs of others (Isa. 58:6-9), or indifference to the clear teachings of the Word of God (Jer. 35:17), there is danger of divine judgment (Zech. 7:8-14). Thus the unanswered call becomes a sign of broken fellowship.277

In light of all of this, one wonders whether Habakkuk may have entertained the added thought that he was out of fellowship with God. Divine disregard of Judah’s apostasy and open sin would be difficult enough to understand, but should he himself have so occasioned God’s displeasure that he was not on prayer-answering ground, that might be an additional burden too great to bear. Thus viewed, Habakkuk’s questions and doubts take on an extra emotional and spiritual dimension. He was an unhappy, perplexed, and greatly frustrated prophet.

Additional Notes

1:2 Although I translated the Hebrew tetragrammaton consistently as “Yahweh” in the commentary on Nahum, Habakkuk’s posture as one crying to Israel’s sovereign favors the traditional translation “LORD,” a rendering that will be followed for consistency’s sake throughout the first two chapters. יהוה will be translated “Yahweh” beginning with the epic material in 3:3.

עַד־אָנָה (“how long”): The interrogative adverb אָן (“where”) with augmented ָה ( a‚) is often combined with עַד (“for”) to form, as here, a compound interrogative particle of time (cf. Ex. 16:28; Num. 14:11; Josh. 18:3; Jer. 47:6). Here it introduces the prophet’s invocation. Used with a suffix conjugation, the phrase may indicate Habakkuk’s past repeated cries to God. Thus Keil is probably correct in translating “How long . . . have I cried” (cf. LXX), as opposed to the usual English translations (“How long ... will I/must I/am I to cry”) that emphasize the prophet’s continuing call for help.278 Thus construed the phrase underscores Habakkuk’s frustration and exasperation with the whole state of affairs.

The prophet’s concern is therefore a longstanding one, so that his doubts and questionings are not those of a fault-finding negative critic or a skeptic but the honest searchings of a holy prophet of God. In contrast to other words for crying, שׁוע carries with it the idea of a cry for help. Victor Hamilton reports that the verb is used characteristically in the autobiographical first person, particularly in lament literature.279 As to origin, Gerber suggests that the verb is a denominative from שָׁוְעָה (“cry for help”), itself drawn from the root ישׁע (“save”).280 Whether or not that can be determined, the letters in the word probably form an intentional alliterative chiasmus with תוֹשִׁיעַ at the end of the verse. The prophet’s observation, then, is that although he has cried for help for time long past calculation, no deliverance is yet forthcoming.

1:2-3 The cry “Violence” and the need for divine help are reminiscent of Job’s lament (Job 9:7). Jeremiah (Jer. 6:7; 20:8) also complains of the violence and destruction of Judahite society, a charge echoed by Ezekiel (Ezek. 45:9). Zephaniah (Zeph. 3:4) points out the violating of God’s law that characterized Judahite society at the inception of Josiah’s reign. Such general violence naturally leaves a society in the grip of upheaval and strife (cf. Ps. 55:9 [HB 55:10]).

ָָאוֶן and עָמָל occur together at times to depict sin and its resulting troubles (Ps. 7:14 [HB 7:15]; Isa. 10:1), while עָמָל is employed with שֹׁד in Prov. 24:2 in describing the evil machinations and corrupt words of wicked men. The chiastic deployment of the verbs in lines 1, 2, and 4 of v. 3 is striking.

1:4 †The verb פּוּג (cf. Arabic fa„„ja, “grow cool”; Syriac pa„g, “be cold”) is generally taken to mean “grow numb.” It is used of Jacob’s stunned reaction to the news that his son Joseph still lived (Gen. 45:26) and of the psalmist’s hands stretched out to God in untiring supplication (Ps. 77:2 [HB 77:3]; cf. Lam. 2:18; 3:49). The semantic range of the verb used here with תּוֹרָה (“law”) makes the tragedy of Judahite society most graphic. The operation of God’s law is seen as benumbed and ineffective, much like hands rendered useless by cold, a condition (doubtless occasioned by the spiritual coldness of men’s hearts) that seemed to continue with tireless regularity.

†By תּוֹרָה (“law”) is meant not civil law but God’s law upon which the legal enactments of society must be based if righteousness is to prevail. Thus Theodore Laetsch remarks:

God’s own Law, the constitution of the nation, the heart and soul of Judah’s political, religious, and social life; God’s Law, the neglect of which would inevitably bring on the ruination of God’s land and people (Deut. 28:15ff.), this Law was crippled so that “judgment doth never go forth.”281

מִשְׁפָּט (“justice”) is, as Keil points out, “not merely a righteous verdict, however; in which case the meaning would be: There is no more any righteous verdict given, but a righteous state of things, objective right in the civil and political life.”282 Indeed, as Herbert Marks observes, social justice is a key consideration in Habakkuk’s prophecy.283 Together with צַדּיק (“righteous”) it becomes the literary hook to the next section (vv. 5-11). The themes of justice and righteousness are central ones in the book and will reach a climax in Hab. 2:4. J. G. Harris appropriately states:

Justice ( msŒpt£), which ... carried a redemptive element in its prosecution, and righteousness ( s£dyq) were the quintessence of the divine will. They embodied the central authority from which the coherence of the social order stemmed.284

Their placement in the middle two lines of the chiastic structure of the verse is probably designed for emphatic effect.

מַכְתּיר (“engulf”) is a hiphil participle from כָּתַר (“encircle/surround”). The etymology of the root is clouded, the usual suggested cognates Aramaic/Syriac kattar (“wait/await”) and Akkadian kata„ru (I: “band together”; II: “think”) proving of little help for most Hebrew contexts (but see Job 36:2). KB-3 follows the lead of W. Leslau in relating Hebrew texts where כָּתַר clearly bears the meaning “encircle/surround” (e.g., Ps. 22:12 [HB 22:13]) to the Ethiopic (Tigre) verb kätra (“surround/make a hedge”; cf. Tigrinòa mäktär, “hedge”).285 KB-3 also proposes that in some cases (e.g., Prov. 14:18) the verb is a denominative from כֶּתֶר (“crown”). On the whole Leslau’s suggestion appears to be the simplest, although the occurrence of the root only in the piel and hiphil stems could argue for a denominative origin of this Hebrew verb.

The image of encircling/surrounding, here either with hostile intent or overwhelming superiority, suggests the translation “engulf” given above. The NIV translation “hem in,” also ad sensum, makes excellent sense; the NJB “outwits,” however, is less tenable.

מְעֻקָּל (“perverted”): The word is related to a root attested in Syriac ( àa††qal, “twist”) and Arabic ( àaqqala, “bend”). The form is a hapax legomenon, although the related adjectives עֲקַלְקַל (“twisted,” Judg. 5:6; Ps. 125:5)286 and עֲקַלָּתוֹן (“crooked,” Isa. 27:1)287 are attested. The application of the root to the perverted justice of Judahite society is obvious.

עַל־כֵּן (“therefore”) in lines 1 and 4 is another example of chiasmus.

B. First Explanation: God Will Judge Judah Through The Chaldeans (1:5-11)

To the emotional and dramatic cry of the prophet God gives a dramatic answer that will amaze him. God is already at work on the problem; He will send the Chaldeans to chastise Judah (vv. 5-6). God then supplies some additional details as to the martial abilities of the violent Chaldeans (vv. 7-11).


“Look among the nations* and observe,*

      and be utterly amazed*;

For I am doing* something in your days

      that you would not believe if* it were told (to you).

6For I am raising up the Chaldeans,

      that fierce and fiery* people,

that sweeps across the breadth of the earth

      to seize dwelling places not his own.

7He is terrifying and fearsome,

      a law and an authority to himself.

8His horses are swifter than leopards

      and keener* than wolves of the evening.

His cavalry* gallops on*;

      his horsemen come from afar,

      they fly like an eagle* swooping to devour.

9All of them are bent on violence;

      every face is set forward*,

      they gather captives like the sand.

10He scoffs at kings,

      and princes are a laughingstock to him;

he laughs at every fortress,

      he builds a siege mound and captures it.

11Suddenly the windstorm pushes through and goes on;

      but he whose strength is his god will be held guilty.”

Exegesis and Exposition

In his reply to Habakkuk God seizes upon the very words Habakkuk had used. The prophet had complained that he constantly had to behold evil all around him. But God Himself had seen it all—apparently with unconcern, because He had done nothing to correct either the people or the condition. God now tells Habakkuk to look, to look at the nations, to take a good look. God is already at work in and behind the scenes of earth’s history to set in motion events that will change the whole situation. And when Habakkuk learns what is to happen, he will be utterly amazed. In fact, he probably will not be able to believe it.

The reason for Habakkuk’s projected astonishment becomes apparent in v. 6: God will raise up the Chaldeans. Verses 5-6, revealing Habakkuk’s astonishment at God’s sending the Chaldeans to judge His people, are crucial to understanding the setting of the book.

“Chaldeans” translates the Hebrew כַּשְׂדִּים ( kasÃdîm). By the Neo-Assyrian period the term “Chaldea” was used of those tribes that lived in southernmost Mesopotamia. Many of them were designated by the word bi„t (“house of”), such as Bit Yakin, which was situated on the Persian Gulf. One of the most famous Chaldean kings was Merodach-Baladan, the perennial enemy of Assyria, who sent his emissaries to Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:12-19).288 By at least 705 B.C. Merodach-Baladan took the title “King of Babylon,” with the result that the terms “Chaldean” and “Babylonian” became used interchangeably in the OT (cf. Isa. 13:19; 47:1, 5; 48:14, 20).

After Sennacherib’s defeat of Merodach-Baladan in 701 B.C., Chaldean resistance to Assyria continued from their power base in southernmost Mesopotamia (an area known as the sealands) and was accompanied by a frequently recurring contest for the city of Babylon. On one occasion this brought a surprise attack against Babylon by Sennacherib (689 B.C.) and on another a campaign by Ashurbanipal (652 B.C.), who eventually subdued the city in 648 B.C.

Tensions between the Assyrians and the freedom-loving Chaldeans always remained strained, and after Ashurbanipal’s death the fires of revolt were again fanned. At least by the year of Ashurbanipal’s passing (626 B.C.), the Chaldeans took Babylon, making it their capital and installing Nabopolassar as its king. By the end of the seventh century B.C. the Chaldeans, aided by the Medes and Ummanmanda (Scythians?), had taken all of Assyria. Afterward the allies gradually conquered the greater portion of the ancient Fertile Crescent from the borders of Elam to Egypt.289 The Neo-Babylonian empire was to reach its height of power under Nabopolassar’s son Nebuchadnezzar II (also spelled Nebuchadrezzar; 605-562 B.C.) and last until it experienced a crushing defeat at the hands of the Persians in 539 B.C.290

The question naturally arises as to the relation of the Chaldean political activities to Habakkuk’s prophecy. Those who argue for a date in the time of Jehoiakim (e.g., Archer, Freeman, Hailey, Hummel, Payne, E. J. Young) relate these verses and those that follow to the Chaldeans’ known fighting prowess, as demonstrated in the victories at Nineveh (612 B.C.) and Haran (609 B.C.), perhaps even also at Carchemish (605 B.C.). According to this view one might argue that Habakkuk’s projected amazement is what will serve as the crux of his second complaint—namely, that God would stoop to use such a ruthless people.

Those who favor a date for the book of Habakkuk in Josiah’s reign (e.g., Bullock, Laetsch, Unger) emphasize the prophet’s amazement at hearing about the Chaldeans, a yet relatively unproved power, the general conditions of social and religious chaos that occasioned Josiah’s reforms (cf. Hab. 1:2-4 with Jer. 1-6), and the Lord’s words to the prophet that He would do a work “in your days” (v. 5), which implies a degree of futurity to the prophecy.

Those who favor a setting in the reign of Manasseh (e.g., Keil) stress the documented evil of Manasseh’s reign (2 Kings 21:1-18; 2 Chron. 33:1-20; cf. Hab. 1:2-4) and argue accordingly: they relate Habakkuk’s incredulity to the fact that although the Chaldeans had been a troublesome source of rebellion for the Assyrians they scarcely were candidates for being a world power that could touch Judah; and they consider the expression “in your days” to be a general one that is reconcilable with the Chaldeans’ efforts some 20 years later and Nebuchadnezzar’s strike against Jerusalem 45 years later.

On the whole the latter two views are the most satisfactory.291 Both rightly discount any great amazement concerning the Chaldeans by the time of Jehoiakim, for their viciousness was well known by then. Both can point to general conditions of moral and spiritual wickedness indicated by the Scriptures themselves and can deal satisfactorily with the predicted events as being accomplished “in your days.” Both retain well the force of predictive prophecy, whereas the view that locates the book of Habakkuk in Jehoiakim’s day must face the fact that such predictions as that of Habakkuk 1:5-11 could be given by any noninspired observer of that day.

Because the scriptural data concerning the character of Manasseh’s reign are far better documented (note that the dating of Jer. 1-6 to Josiah’s reign is debated), because of the closeness of subject matter and canonical position of Habakkuk with Nahum and Zephaniah, and because of the possible borrowing of Habakkuk’s material by Jeremiah and Zephaniah (see introduction), I tend to favor the older Jewish view that Habakkuk 1:2-11 is best related to the latter part of Manasseh’s reign (c. 655-650 B.C.)

By telling Habakkuk of the Chaldeans’ future prominence, the Lord reassures him of His sovereign control of the details of history. Since God’s prophet will be surprised at the announcement about the Chaldeans, God goes on to supply a brief résumé of their character and potentially devastating power (vv. 6-11). They are a fierce, cruel people who will never tire in quest of their goal of conquest (v. 6b). Their successes will strike fear into the hearts of all who stand in their path (v. 7a). A terror and dread to all, they arrogantly acknowledge no law but themselves (v. 7b).

The reason for their success may be further seen in their military capabilities. Possessed of swift war horses made skillful by discipline and the experience of battle, their cavalry could cover vast distances quickly in their insatiable thirst for conquest and booty (v. 8). Not alone for spoil but seemingly for the sheer sport of it they campaigned fiercely and inflicted violence on their enemies.

Habakkuk had complained concerning the sinful violence that lay all around him (v. 2). That will be dealt with in kind and in suitable measure (cf. Isa. 24:14-23; Joel 3:7-8 [HB 4:7-8]; 2 Thess. 1:6-8). The word “violence” thus serves as more than a literary hook between the first two sections of the book: Violence was a living reality.

Contrary to Habakkuk’s complaint, God assures his prophet that he sees all that comes to pass and hears the prayers and complaints of His people.292 Habakkuk’s own word is sent back to him. Has Judah done violence? It shall in turn suffer violence at the hands of a violent nation whose well-trained and battle-seasoned army will move forward with such precision that the whole striking force will march as one to achieve its objectives, at the same time taking many captives (v. 9).

No wonder, then, that enemy rulers are merely a joke to them. With disdain they laugh at them, move against their cities, however strongly fortified, and, using siege techniques, capture them (v. 10).

Although the language is hyperbolic throughout (vv. 6-11), in light of the ancient records it is not inappropriate. Among the many texts that could be cited concerning the Chaldeans’ successful campaigning one may note the following:

In the fifteenth year, the month of Tammuz, . . . the king of Akkad called out his army and ... marched to Assyria where [from the month of ... he marched about] victoriously ...... of the land of Hazazu[?] quickly ..... and the land of Su[ppa] he conquered, plundering from them and [taking] spoil [and prisoners] from them. In the month of Marcheswan the king of Akkad took personal command of his army and [marched] against the town of Ruggul[iti] and made an attack on the town, capturing it on the twenty-eighth day of the month of Marcheswan, not a man escaped.

In the twenty-first year ... Nebuchadrezzar his eldest son, the crown-prince, mustered (the Babylonian army) and took command of his troops; he marched to Carchemish which is on the bank of the Euphrates, and crossed the river (to go) against the Egyptian army which lay in Carchemish ..... fought with each other and the Egyptian army withdrew before him. He accomplished their defeat and to non-existence [beat?] them.293

The section also contains some striking metaphors and similes. The rapidly advancing and voracious Chaldean forces are likened to swift leopards and fearsome wolves at evening,294 to a powerful eagle swooping down on its helpless prey, and to the simoon taking vast stores of sand as it sweeps along. The trope of the windstorm is then changed somewhat, now emphasizing the suddenness of the cessation of its fury and the implied havoc it has left behind.

The picture of Chaldean armed might is thus complete. Its armies have been portrayed as the finest and fiercest in the world, being capable of moving swiftly across vast stretches of land to strike the enemy. With his many successes in hand it is understandable that the Chaldean can be described as an arrogant bully who holds all his foes in contempt and mocks them. Such a one knows no god but strength (v. 10).

Habakkuk is informed, however, that God’s avenging host is not without responsibility. When nations make themselves and their own strength their only god rather than acknowledging the true God, who is their sponsor, they will be held guilty for their actions. Had Habakkuk listened as carefully to the last line of God’s answer as he did to the extended description of Judah’s chastiser, he might have avoided the second perplexity that gripped his soul, the report of which is contained in the verses that follow (1:12-2:1).295

Additional Notes

1:5 †The verb נָבַט(“look/observe”) had formed a critical part of Habakkuk’s complaint (v. 3), and God uses the same word in His reply. It thus serves as a literary hook between the first two sections. It will figure in the next portion as well (v. 13). Further hooks can be seen in מִשְׁפָּט (“justice/law,” vv. 4, 7) and חָמָס (“violence,” vv. 2, 9).

†For בַגּוֹים (“among the nations”) LXX reads οἱ καταφρονηταί (“O despisers”), perhaps reflecting a reading בֹגְדִים (“treacherous ones”). Paul retains the reading of LXX in his address at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:41), doubtless because of its familiarity there and therefore its suitability as a warning not to despise God’s offer of salvation.

†I have followed the suggestion of the NIV in translating תְּמָהוּ הִתַּמְּהוּ as “be utterly amazed,” a translation designed to retain the play on the root in the two imperatives in the simplest fashion. The play on verbal stems could of course reflect a contrast or progression in emphasis such as “be astonished,” “be dumbfounded” as suggested by some ancient and most modern versions.

פֹעַל פֹּעֵל (“I am working a work”): The LXX adds the personal pronoun ἐγὼ (“I”) to the phrase ad sensum, but such is not necessary in the Hebrew text because the personal pronoun is frequently omitted in cases where the subject has already been mentioned or is sufficiently clear from the context. Here the subject has been elided metri causa and because the thought anticipates the הִנְנִי (“behold me,” i.e., ”I am”) construed with the participle that occurs in the next verse.296 The same construction occurs in 2:10 with omission of the 2d masc. sing. pronoun.

כִּי (“if”): The conditional use of this particle is well established.297 Alternatively the line could be translated, “you will not believe (it) when it is reported (to you).”

1:6 כִּי (“for”): The particle could also be rendered as an asseverative: “yea/indeed.”298

הִנְנִי מֵקִים (“I am raising up”): This construction is often used to refer to future events, the details of which God is about to set in process. The following participle הַהוֹלֵךְ (“that sweeps across”) also has a future time reference.

כַּשְׂדִים (“Chaldeans”): Critical attempts to read Kittim and refer the term to the Greeks are devoid of manuscript support, despite 1QpHab’s interpretation as Kittim (meaning, however, the Romans). The text of the Qumran manuscript preserves the reading of the MT.

הַמַּר וְהַנִּמְהָר (“fierce and fiery”): Due to the play on letters and sounds in the Hebrew text the alliterative translation of the NJB has been followed. The Hebrew may be literally translated “bitter and speedy” (cf. LXX, KJV “bitter and hasty”). Since it is the Chaldeans’ disposition that is being characterized here, however, most commentators and versions have opted for such renderings as “fierce” or “ruthless” for מַר and “impetuous” for נִמְהָר.

1:7 †The description of the Chaldeans added here takes the form of personification, with the nation and its people, particularly its army, being viewed in the masc. sing. Therefore, the pronoun that follows ( הוּא) has been rendered accordingly. There is also an implied synecdoche here, the whole nation being reflected in the conduct of its army. Alternatively one might view הוּא as referring to the Chaldean king, the example par excellence of the Neo-Babylonian empire.

†The clause יֵצֵא ... מִמֶּנּוּ (lit. “from him [his justice/law and eminence] go out”) is best rendered ad sensum “(he is) a law and authority to himself” or “(he is) his own law and authority.” Thus the Chaldean knows no other law, whether divine or human, than himself and his own might (cf. v. 11). The word מִשְׁפָּט both forms a literary hook with vv. 2-4 and serves as a key stitch-word for the whole prophecy.

1:8 †The verb חָדַד means “be sharp/keen.” The difficulty of the image as applied to evening wolves has occasioned numerous suggestions such as “fiercer” (NIV, NJB), “quicker” (R. Smith; cf. LXX), more eager to attack” (NASB marginal note). The picture probably is that of the keen sensibilities of the wolf, alert to the prey and to every situation. As applied to horses it must refer to their skill and spiritedness in battle situations.

פָּרָשָׁיו (“his cavalry”; cf. NIV): The noun פָּרָשׁ means “horse” or “horseman.” Since Habakkuk has used סוּס for “horse” earlier in the verse and because the figure in the next line is better suited to horsemen than to horses, such is probably the intention in both instances. The translation given here follows the NIV in providing synonyms for the double occurrence of פָּרָשׁ

וּפָשׁוּ (“galloping on”): I have translated ad sensum with the NASB (cf. NIV, NJB). The precise nuance of the verb פּוּשׁ (“spring about”; cf. Nahum 3:18) is difficult. In other places (e.g., Jer. 50:11; Mal. 3:20) it is used for the gamboling of calves. The LXX translates it “mount.” R. Smith follows the lead of the text of 1QpHab in reading ופדשו for the second וּפָרָשָיו and translates the debated lines “his horses paw the ground, they spring forward, they come from afar.”299

†For נֶשֶׁר (“eagle”) some suggest the translation “vulture” (e.g., Laetsch, NIV). Although such a translation is admissible and serves the line well, if the image of “coming from afar” is carried through, the more traditional rendering here is perhaps better. The far-reaching Chaldeans are also compared to horses and eagles by Jeremiah (Jer. 4:13; 48:40; 49:22).

1:9מְגַמַּת פְּנֵיהֶם קָדִימָה: The clause is a difficult one. Ward gives it up as “untranslatable” and adds: “It is a corrupt intrusion; or, possibly represents the remnant of a member of a lost couplet.”300 Textual uncertainty is already evident in the ancient versions, whose attempts to translate ad sensum produced widely varying results. Modern efforts have proved no more convincing.301 The chief difficulties center in the first and third words. The former is a hapax legomenon that is generally considered to be derived from the root גמם (“be abundant/filled”; cf. Arabic jamma, “be/become abundant”). The precise nuance of the word has, however, been variously understood, some opting for the idea of eagerness (Laetsch, NASB marginal reading) on the part of the Chaldeans or the endeavor etched on their faces (Keil), others for the thought of totality (R. Smith, NEB). Accordingly the first two words are rendered “hordes” (NIV) or “horde of faces” (NASB; cf. R. Smith, “all of their faces”).

Final decision as to the translation of the first word is tied to that of the third word, which has been related to the idea of advancing, hence “moving forward” (NASB), or to the figure of the east wind (NJB), a suggestion found already in 1QpHab (cf. Vg). The latter solution is favored by the following figure of the gathering of captives like sand. The NIV attempts to retain both meanings for קָדִימָה by translating “Their hordes advance like a desert wind.”

Final certainty is lacking. The translation adopted here endeavors to strike a balance between the more probable meanings of the two debated words in the line and the flow of thought in the context. The disputed line builds not only on the following line with its reference to sand but the preceding line with its expression of total commitment: “All of them are bent on violence.” My suggestion is that the troublesome phrase מְגַמַּת פְּנֵיהֶם is related to the figure of totality in the preceding line and that the word קָדִימָה serves to fill out the meaning of its own line and is also chosen to form a paronomasia with the following line. So construed, while yielding the sense of “pressing forward” in its own line, the force of the word’s root relationship with קֶדֶם (“east wind”) forms an association of ideas anticipating the figure that follows in the next line. So understood the flow of thought in the three lines may be paraphrased:

With all of them bent on violence,

With every face set forward,302

They gather captives like the sand.

Thus the invincible Neo-Babylonian army will move forward as one unit, all of them bent on violence, all of them pressing forward as with a single face conquering and gathering captives like a colossal east wind that gathers untold quantities of sand.303

1:10 The twice-occurring הוּא (“he”) stands in anticipatory emphasis and refers either to the personified Chaldean nation or its king (see the exposition of 1:7).

עָפָר (“dust”) used with the verb צָבַר (“heap up”) in a presumed military context probably intends a description of a siege. The building of siege mounds as a battle tactic is widely attested both in the Scriptures (e.g., 2 Sam. 20:15; 2 Kings 19:32; Jer. 32:24; Ezek. 17:17) and in the extrabiblical literature of the ancient Near East. For example, in his third campaign that eventually took him to the gates of Jerusalem, Sennacherib boasts:

As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke. I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well-tamped (earth-)ramps, and battering-rams brought (thus) near (to the walls) (combined with) the attack by foot soldiers, (using) mines, breeches as well as sapper work.304

Verse 10 is marked by the frequent use (5 times) of the sound s, three of them occurring in successive words.

1:11 חָלַף רוּחַ (“a windstorm passes through”): Because רוּחַ is generally a feminine noun and is thus inappropriate as the subject of the masc. sing. verb here, the phrase is often translated as a simile, for example, “They sweep past like the wind” (NIV; cf. NASB). Because רוּחַ is also at times masculine (e.g., Ex. 10:13), however, it seems simplest to view it as a metaphor that is also the subject of the sentence (cf. NJB). The translation of אָז here as “suddenly,” although usually rendered as a temporal particle meaning “then,” “at that time,” is due to the context.

אָשֵׁם (“guilty”): The relation of the last clause to what precedes is difficult. Ward decides that it yields no reasonable sense and is corrupt.”305 Keil takes אָשֵׁם as a verb and translates it “offends.”306 Others take the form to mean “become guilty” (e.g., Laetsch, R. Smith). 1QpHab reads וישם (cf. BHS), which has been understood by some as a form derived from שִׂים (“set”; Humbert) and by others as being from שָׁמַם (“be desolate”; G. R. Driver, Brownlee). The translation suggested above retains אָשֵׁם as an adjective in predicate relation to the following subject clause, which is introduced by the explicative particle זוּ (“the one of”).307 Thus construed the line may be rendered, ”But he whose strength is his god is/will be held guilty” (cf. NASB, NJB).

C. Second Perplexity: How Can God Employ The Wicked Chaldeans? (1:12-2:1)

God’s answer and extended description of his agent of judgment against Judah puzzled his prophet. Habakkuk simply could not reconcile God’s use of the Chaldeans, a people more corrupt than those they were to judge, to punish His people. He begins his second perplexity with an invocation in which he expresses his consternation (v. 12). Not only did God’s announcement seem out of character for a holy God but the use of the Chaldeans provoked another thought. Once this plan was put into operation would not a helpless mankind always be at the mercy of these God-commissioned agents of chastisement (vv. 13-17)? Having voiced his complaint, the prophet reaffirms his confidence in God by placing himself in readiness for God’s answer to his latest question (2:1). God’s reply will occupy the rest of chap. 2.


Are You not from everlasting*, O LORD?

      My God, my Holy One*, we shall not die.

O LORD, You have appointed them to execute judgment*;

      O Rock, You have established them to reprove.

13Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;

      You cannot behold oppression.

Why do You behold the treacherous and keep silent*

      when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves,

14and so You make men* like the fish of the sea,

      like sea creatures* without a ruler?

15He pulls all of them up with a hook;

      he draws them in his net*,

      and he gathers them into his dragnet*.

Therefore, he rejoices and is glad.

16Therefore, he sacrifices to his net

      and burns incense to his dragnet;

for by them his catch is abundant*

      and his food plenteous*.

17Shall he therefore* keep on emptying his dragnet*

      and continually* slay nations unsparingly?

2:1I will stand* at my watch

      and station myself on the ramparts;

and I will keep watch* to see what He will say to me,

      and how I can reply according to my reproof.

Exegesis and Exposition

Like the previous statement of Habakkuk’s perplexity (vv. 2-4), this second account is cast in a lament genre: invocation (v. 12), statement of the problem (vv. 13-17), closing declaration of the prophet’s confidence in God (2:1). The section is marked by the normal elements of lament but also by the utilization of the root יכח ( ykh£, “reprove”) as a bookending device (1:12; 2:1). This section is joined to the previous one by the stitch-words מִשְׁפָּט ( mispa„t£, “justice, judgment”) and צַדִּיק ( sŒaddîq, “righteous”), which occur in close proximity in these sections (vv. 12, 13), and by similar employment of עָמָל ( àa„ma„l, “oppression”), רָאָה ( ra„áa‚, “look”), and נָבַט ( na„bat£, “behold”; v. 13; cf. vv. 3, 5). Thus, despite the emotional trauma that gripped the prophet through this troublesome time, the record of all that transpired has been preserved and presented in a highly artistic fashion.

The section opens, as did that containing his first perplexity, with a rhetorical question (cf. v. 2). Habakkuk reminds himself of God’s eternality and covenant relationship to Israel. By calling on Yahweh, Habakkuk states his awareness of the fact that God has seen it all. Despite any misgivings Habakkuk might have or will express, he makes clear his confidence in the Lord’s unique eternality. As such, God alone is sufficient for the current need. He not only is the eternally existent one but also has remained Israel’s covenant God since the days of the fathers (cf. Deut. 7:6; Ps. 89:1-37 [HB 89:2-38]). As T. McComiskey rightly points out, Israel’s spiritual experience was to be

an intimate relationship with God. The Lord would be their God, providing them with the protection and benefits expected in such a loving relationship. This great statement is the heart and soul of the promise because all the gracious benefits of the promise derive from the loving power and volition of God expressed in the intimate and mysterious relationship with him that the people of faith enjoy.308

Habakkuk also addresses God with other familiar names and titles. He is אֱלֹהִים ( áe†lo„hîm, “God”), the sovereign and preeminent one who is the creator, sustainer, and consummator of all history. Like YHWH, the name is especially linked to the patriarchs (Ex. 3:6) and Israel (Ps. 68:32-35 [HB 68:33-36]) but could be utilized also by individual believers (Ps. 63:1[HB 63:2]). Accordingly Habakkuk could rightly call the one in whom he trusted “my God.”

Habakkuk also calls God “my Holy One.” Because holiness is represented in the Scriptures as being the quintessential attribute of God (Ex. 15:11; Ps. 99:9; Isa. 6:3), and hence is the dynamic of the believer’s ethic (Ex. 19:6; Lev. 11:44; 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:16), God is often called “the Holy One” (e.g., Job 6:10; cf. Isa. 57:15) and especially “the Holy One of Israel” (Pss. 71:22; 89:18 [HB 89:19]; and 26 times in Isaiah!). Consequently Habakkuk’s addressing God as “my Holy One” is quite in line with the thinking of mainstream orthodoxy. Keil rightly observes concerning these three titles that

the three predicates applied to God have equal weight in the question. The God to whom the prophet prays is Jehovah, the absolutely constant One, who is always the same in word and work (see at Gen. ii.4); He is also Elohai, my, i.e. Israel’s God, who from time immemorial has proved to the people whom He had chosen as His possession that He is their God; and קְדשִׁי, the Holy One of Israel, the absolutely Pure One, who cannot look upon evil, and therefore cannot endure that the wicked should devour the righteous (ver. 13).309

Habakkuk also calls God a Rock.* The word found here is often used symbolically of God Himself (cf. 1 Sam. 2:2) as a place of refuge (Ps. 18:2 [HB 18:3]) for the trusting believer (Deut. 32:15). To whom else could he turn? As Laetsch remarks, “Tossed about by agonizing doubts, the prophet clings with the hands of faith to the firm, immovable Rock of Ages.”310

Faced with the prospect of destructive judgment, perhaps even the death of the nation itself, Habakkuk cries out to Israel’s God, the Holy One of her salvation who alone is her refuge in such times (cf. Deut. 32:4; Pss. 31:1-3 [HB 31:2-4]; 71:3): “we shall not die!” The precise understanding of Habakkuk’s impassioned words is difficult to grasp. It has been treated in several ways. (1) The plain sense of the MT has been followed by most expositors and versions as a statement of the prophet’s confidence in God’s promises to Israel (e.g., Armerding, Keil). (2) Some follow the tradition of the Tiqqune sopherim that the older reading was “you shall not die” (e.g., Hayes, R. Smith; cf. BHS, NEB, NJB).311 (3) M. Dahood suggests a restructuring of the consonants of the text to read le„áo„n ma„wet (“the victor over death”).312 (4) A. J. O. vander Wal opts for a modal use of the imperfect: “we shall not die!”313 (5) One could also conceivably suggest that the phrase is a question. Thus Laetsch, following the MT, translates “we shall not die?!” and ties the understanding of the prophet’s words to the primeval statement of Gen. 3:15, the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12:3; etc.), the predictions concerning Judah (Gen. 49:10-12), and the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7; etc.). He then remarks,

The deportation of the ten tribes (722 B.C.) had been an appalling calamity; but far more catastrophic would be the annihilation of Judah. Yet what God had just announced appeared to the prophet as the Supreme Judge’s death sentence upon Judah. In horrified shock he cries out, We shall not die! ... That cannot be, O God! That would contradict Thine own self-revelation, Thy very nature.314

In addition to Laetsch’s view of an implied negative answer one could suggest that the interrogative particle of the first line should be viewed as doing double duty in this line. So understood it would imply the negative הֲלֹא (“shall we not”) expecting a positive reply. In this case the prophet’s fear would be that, although God himself is eternal, such is not the case with Israel. Indeed, if the Chaldeans were to go on unchecked, would not Judah die and all the divine promises to Israel with it? The existence of the nation and God’s own reputation were at stake.

Since the MT makes good sense as it stands, it has been followed here. Moreover, the alternate suggestions have their own problems. The second view has no manuscript support and adds little or nothing to the flow of thought. The third and fourth suggestions are conjectural. The fifth alternative, while contextually helpful, does not commend itself despite Habakkuk’s use of double-duty interrogatives elsewhere (1:2, 13, 17; 2:7, 18), for these are all cases of compound sentences with the same subject. Taken at face value Habakkuk’s words are a statement of the prophet’s ultimate confidence in God. From a literary standpoint they anticipate the closing statement of confidence at the end of the section (2:1). From a theological viewpoint they reflect Habakkuk’s firm grasp of covenant truth: Despite Israel’s certain chastisement, God will remain faithful to His promise to the patriarchs (Gen. 17:2-8; 26:3-5; 28:13-15), to Israel (Ex. 3:3-15; 14:1-6; Deut. 7:6; 14:1-2; 26:16-18), and to the house of David (2 Sam. 7:12-29).

Despite the prophet’s confidence in God, he has reservations concerning the situation. Habakkuk has been shown that judgment and reproof* (or correction) must come, and he understands that the Lord is sending the Chaldeans for that purpose. Although he is committed to the truth of God’s abiding presence with Israel and the inviolability of the divine promises, Habakkuk the man has fears. Perhaps punishment at the hands of such a vicious people will prove to be too much. How could God use such a wicked nation to execute His purposes?

These problems are detailed in the verses that follow (vv. 13b-17). He begins with the latter concern. Again the matter of justice surfaces in Habakkuk’s thinking. While he understands the necessity of Judah’s judgment and the Chaldeans’ role, he cannot comprehend how a holy God can use a nation that is more wicked than the nation He desires to punish. God’s prophet seizes upon words that have been the focus of God’s presentation. God’s eyes are too pure to see evil; He cannot look upon oppression. Habakkuk had asked whether God really saw the oppression that His prophet gazed on in Judah (v. 3). God had told him to look out at the nations for what He was going to do (v. 5). Habakkuk now tells God that having seen what God was going to do he cannot “see” how God can look on silently when a treacherous, evil,* and more oppressive nation swallows up people that at least have some semblance of righteousness. Laetsch may be correct in suggesting that by “righteous” Habakkuk intends more particularly the believing remnant within Judah:

The prophet, of course, does not think here merely of civic righteousness. ... He thinks here of the small remnant of such as are righteous by faith in the promised Redeemer. Yet they must suffer together with the mass of unbelieving Jews, and in like manner, the inhuman cruelties of the Chaldeans. Why does God permit, and even decree, such a judgment? How does this agree with His holiness and justice?315

In any case Habakkuk takes his place beside many others, such as Job (Job 7:16-21; 9:21-24; 12:4-6; 21:1-16; 24:1-16, 21-25; 27:1-12), the psalmist Asaph (Ps. 73), Jeremiah (Jer. 11:18-19; 12:1-4; 15:15-18; 17:15-18; 20:7-18), and Malachi (Mal. 2:17), who questioned God as to His fairness in handling the problems of evil and injustice. Like these other questioners, Habakkuk will be shown the necessity of resting fully in God (Hab. 2:4, 20).

In answer to Habakkuk’s first perplexity, God had revealed that He would send the Chaldeans to deal with Judah’s sin (vv. 5-6). Because the Chaldeans were relatively unknown, He supplied a resume of their military capability (vv. 7-11). Habakkuk has a problem with both parts of God’s answer to his complaint. He has indicated his displeasure in God’s choice of the Chaldeans (v. 13). Now he reacts to the description of their ferocity (vv. 14-17). Granted the accuracy of God’s report, has He not turned loose upon a helpless mankind a voracious force that even He would be powerless to check?

Adopting the imagery of fishing, Habakkuk portrays the scenario that God has set in motion as one of fishermen (Chaldeans), who use their sophisticated and powerful hooks and nets (Neo-Babylonian military might and methods) to catch helpless fish and creatures of the sea (the various conquered peoples). The success of these Neo-Babylonian “fishermen” will only cause them to rejoice and have their appetites whetted for still greater pleasures. Elated by the fine catches (booty) they shall take, the Chaldeans will acknowledge allegiance to neither God nor man, finding their only “religion” in their raw military power.

Habakkuk’s fears were not unfounded, for the Chaldean war machine was effective enough not only to gain for them political dominance across the northern part of the Fertile Crescent and through the Levant to the borders of Egypt (Nebuchadnezzar would launch one foray into Egypt itself; cf. Jer. 43:10-11) but also to create the mighty Neo-Babylonian empire (cf. Dan. 2:37-38; 7:4) with the city of Babylon (Dan. 4:30) as the chief beneficiary. Indeed, Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon would prove to be a spectacle of opulence. Bisected by the Euphrates River, access to Babylon was gained by nine major gates. The most famous of these, the Ishtar Gate, was flanked on either side by 40-foot towers. Through it the sacred processions of Nebuchadnezzar’s day proceeded to the Esagila temple via a paved street bordered by high walls decorated with brilliantly colored animals painted on a blue background. Ancient historians counted Nebuchadnezzar as the builder of the famed Hanging Gardens, heralded as one of the seven wonders of the world. Edwin Yamauchi calls Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon “the greatest city in the ancient world,” and Gerald Larue declares it “one of the most beautiful.”316

Babylon would also become a center of paganism. It would one day contain at least nine temples, the most famous of which were its ziggurat Etemenanki (“House of the Foundation of Heaven and Earth”) and Esagila (“House of the Uplifted Head”), sacred to Marduk, the patron deity of Babylon. D. J. Wiseman says of the main shrine of this temple complex,

Nabopolassar claimed to have redecorated the Marduk shrine with gypsum and silver alloy, which Nebuchadrezzar replaced with fine gold. The walls were studded with precious stones set in gold plate, and stone and lapis lazuli pillars supported cedar roof beams. The texts describe the god’s gilded bedchamber adjacent to the throne room.

Herodotus (i.183) described two statues of the god, one seated.... Herodotus was told that 800 talents (16.8 metric tons) of gold were used for these statues and for the table, throne, and footstool. A thousand talents of incense were burned annually at the festivals while innumerable sacrificial animals were brought in to the two golden altars, one used for large, the other for small victims.317

It is small wonder that the materialism and religious lust of Babylon were targets for the condemnation of Isaiah and Jeremiah, both of whom prophesied Babylon’s certain fall (Isa. 21:9) and total destruction (Isa. 13:19-22; Jer. 51:24-26). Thereafter the name “Babylon” became symbolic of a misspent materialism that stands in antagonism to the things of God (cf. Rev. 17-18).

For Habakkuk the focal point of the problem lay not just in the Chaldeans’ awesome success but in the fact that they were divinely commissioned warriors. It was God Himself who would raise them up (v. 6) and make expert “fishermen” of them (v. 14). Since God had thus empowered them, could He renounce His own work? Would not these “fishers of men” go on emptying and refilling their nets ad infinitum—conquering city after city and taking heavy booty? No, Habakkuk could not “see” any of this. Such a judgment on God’s people seemed unjust and overly harsh. Once begun it might never be terminated.

Nevertheless, Habakkuk ends his complaint with a renewed statement of his confidence in God (2:1). He also reports his intention to assume the role of a watchman. As the city watchman manned his post atop the walls to look for the approach of danger (Ezek. 33:2-6) or a messenger (2 Sam. 18:24-28; Isa. 21:6-8; 52:7-10), or to keep watch over current events (1 Sam. 14:16-17; 2 Kings 9:17-20), so the OT prophet looked for the communication of God’s will to the waiting people (Jer. 6:17; Ezek. 3:16-21; 33:7-9; Hos. 9:8). Habakkuk would assume the role of a prophetic watchman, taking his post on the ramparts* to watch* for the Lord’s reply. The word “watch” suggests an active, earnest waiting for the Lord’s message; the “ramparts” (cf. 2 Chron. 8:5; 11:5) imply that just as the civil watchman assumed a particular post on the city wall (cf. Nah. 2:1 [HB 2:2]), so the prophet had his assigned post of responsibility (cf. Jer. 1:17-19; Amos 3:6-7). Keil observes:

The words of our verse are to be taken figuratively, or internally, like the appointment of the watchman in Isa. xxi.6. The figure ... expresses the spiritual preparation of the prophet’s soul for hearing the word of God within, i.e. the collecting of his mind by quietly entering into himself, and meditating upon the word and testimonies of God.318

Habakkuk has taken issue with both the Lord’s plan to judge Judah by means of the Chaldeans and with the thought of using such a vicious people at all. The prophet doubtless had given God’s words careful thought and, because he could not see things from God’s point of view, knew that God would have some words of correction for him. He now no longer worries about the Lord’s lack of communication (cf. 1:2) but what sort of correction he will receive. He comes back to the word “reproof” with which he had begun his complaint (v. 12).

Habakkuk has expressed the fact that he understands God’s intention to use the Chaldeans as his agent of reproof to Judah for their own good. Now he similarly expects divine correction to his own difficulties. Where genuine doubt and perplexities exist, God patiently brings the needed reproof (cf. Jonah 4:10-11) and correction of man’s thinking (cf. Ps. 73:18-25). Such would also be Habakkuk’s experience (cf. 3:17-19).

The noun תּוֹכַחַת ( to‚kah£at) is used in one of two ways: (1) “argument” (Ps. 38:14 [HB 38:15]); or (2) “rebuke” (Ps. 39:11 [HB 39:12]; Ezek. 5:15), or “reproof that provides correction for living” (Prov. 1:23-25; 15:31-32). The meaning here could thus be either (1) “my argument” (cf. Job 13:6)—that is, what Habakkuk had just set before God (1:12-17)—or (2) “my correction/reproof” (cf. Ps. 73:14)—that is, the reproof that Habakkuk anticipates God will give him for his own good.

The critics and versions are divided as to the proper understanding here, the majority deciding for the first alternative (e.g., BDB, Craigie, Feinberg, Hayes, Laetsch, von Orelli, G. A. Smith, R. Smith, LXX, Vg, NIV, NJB, RSV) and others for the second (Armerding, Pusey, KJV, NIV marg., NKJV, NASB). Two factors must be considered in reaching a final choice: (1) whether the root יכח ( ykh£), which forms a bookending device to 1:12-2:1, is to be understood in the same way in both instances, or whether there is a repetition of the root for literary effect (such as a paronomasia); (2) the meaning of אָשִׁיב ( áa„sŒîb, “I shall reply”).

Those who choose the second alternative of the use of to„kah£at in this verse usually decide for an identity of meanings for the root יכח in both verses (e.g., Armerding, NASB); those who choose the first alternative do not (e.g., Keil, NIV). As for the problem of áa„sŒîb the form can be understood either as (1) the prophet’s reply to himself and his people with regard to his complaint (first alternative, so Keil) or (2) his reply to his anticipated reproof (second alternative, so Armerding). The difficulty of the first position on áa„sŒîb has perhaps occasioned the Syriac translation, “He will answer” (i.e., Habakkuk waits to see how God will answer his complaint; cf. R. Smith, NJB). Another possibility is to repoint the form in the MT as a qal passive, “I shall be answered” (i.e., the way Habakkuk would be answered by God concerning his complaint).319

The problem of the last line of 2:1 is thus complex. Despite the weight of the majority of scholarship that favors taking to„kah£at as “complaint,” I am inclined to take the second alternative: “reproof.” Especially telling is the probability that the root ykh£ is used to form an inclusio for the section 1:12-2:1. If so, it seems better to translate the root consistently rather than to adopt another explanation, such as an unprovable wordplay. Therefore, Habakkuk notes that the Chaldeans have been sent to reprove/correct the Judahites. Similarly he expects and deserves God’s correction concerning his doubts and his understanding of the full scope of God’s plans for the future.

Accordingly the verb áa„sŒîb most naturally suggests Habakkuk’s answers concerning God’s corrective reply.320 If all this is allowed, the suggestion of a confrontational stance by the prophet is softened. His position is thus that of a watchman in the king’s service manning the ramparts and waiting eagerly for the arrival of his master’s communiqué. Habakkuk expects that the message will bring correction and proper orientation to his anxieties. He is not so much challenging God with a complaint as he is desiring to have his perplexities alleviated and his viewpoint corrected.

Habakkuk also probably wanted to know God’s will and wisdom that he might respond properly to God’s correction and also communicate God’s intentions to others. The prophet’s reaction to God’s reproof would have a telling effect on his own spiritual condition and the effectiveness of his entire ministry. It was a crucial moment for God’s prophet, and he was to prove worthy of the test. C. Armerding puts it well: “He revealed a mature wisdom in his determination that this response be shaped by what God Himself would say. It is a wise man who takes his questions about God to God for the answers.”321 God’s answer was probably not long in coming. It was to carry with it crucial and extensive information (2:2-20).

Additional Notes

1:12מִקֶּדֶם means literally “from aforetime” but is usually employed in the sense of (1) “from of old” (Neh. 12:26; Ps. 77:11 [HB 77:12]; Isa. 45:21; 46:10), (2) “from most ancient times” (Ps. 74:12), or (3) “from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2 [HB 5:1]). Any of its common meanings is possible here, and each has its advocates. Thus R. Smith favors the first and the NJB the second. Most English versions and conservative expositors have followed the third alternative since the focus of the passage is more on God’s existence than on His past deeds (which come into view in chap. 3). The last option is probably the correct one.

†For the hapax legomenon קְדשִׁי (“my Holy One”) BHS suggests reading אֱלֹהֵי קָדְשִׁי (“my Holy God”). But the title “Holy One” here anticipates its use in the epic psalm of the third chapter (3:3). It is also appropriate as a basis for the ethical dimension of the present context.322

The word צוּר (“rock”) is often used symbolically of God Himself (cf. 1 Sam. 2:2) as a place of refuge (Ps. 18:2 [HB 18:3]) for the trusting believer (Deut. 32:15). סֶלַע, another word for “rock,” is used similarly.323 The image of God as a rock is applied to Christ in the NT (1 Cor. 10:4; 1 Pet. 2:6-8). BHS suggests reading צוּרִי (“my rock”), thus continuing the force of the suffix found earlier in the verse.

A few variant suggestions have been proposed for the latter part of the last line. The NJB and NIV translate לְהוֹכִיחַ (“to reprove/chastise”) “to punish,” NASB “to correct.” BHS follows 1QpHab in reading למוכיחו (“for his chastisement”). Since the root יכח reappears in 2:1 forming an inclusio for 1:12-2:1, the translation here will be affected by its understanding in 2:1.

For יְסַדְתּוֹ (“you have established them”), LXX ( ἔπλασεν) may have read the root יסר with the sense “fashion”: “he/it fashioned me for his/its instrument.”

1:13תַּחֲרִישׁ (“[Why ...] are you silent”): The asyndetic structure makes the question even more dramatic,324 rendering the addition of the conjunction in the Qere (cf. Pesh., Tg. Neb.) both unnecessary and inappropriate.

The identity of the wicked here has been the subject of some controversy and has played a role in the argument over the setting of the book (see introduction). If vv. 5-11 are excised as a late interpolation (e.g., Wellhausen, Giesebrecht), one could conceivably view the wicked in vv. 4, 13 as being the same. In such a case they could be identified not only with godless Judahites but also with Egyptians (G. A. Smith), Assyrians (Eissfeldt, Weiser), or Chaldeans (Sellin, Wellhausen).325 One could also follow Duhm in taking the wicked as the Greeks on the basis of the identification of the Kasdim with the Kittim (cf. v. 6).

By following the MT in v. 6, however, the wicked here must be the Chaldeans who are dubbed the fishermen in vv. 15-17. Thus they are not identical with the wicked in Judah of v. 4. Habakkuk’s argument is therefore a fortiori: As wicked as the Judahites were, they scarcely matched the Chaldeans for wickedness.

1:14אָדָם (“men”) is rendered as a collective noun. Several English translations (NJB, KJV, NKJV, NASB) translate the verse as though it continues the questioning begun in v. 13.

רֶמֶשׂ (“sea creatures”): Although usually used of creeping land creatures, it can refer to gliding sea animals (cf. Ps. 104:25), the sense demanded here.

1:15חֶרֶם (“dragnet”) and מִכְמֶרֶת (“fishnet”): The latter word can also be used of a hunter’s net (e.g., Mic. 7:2), as can its cognates מִכְמָר and מַכְמֹר both meaning “net” or “snare” (e.g., Isa. 51:20; Ps. 141:10). חֶרֶם is perhaps related to an Arabic root h£arama meaning “perforate,” whereas מִכְמֶרֶת is cognate to Akkadian kama„ru (“trap with a snare,” “net”).

Though precise differentation between the two words is difficult, Armerding seems to be correct in suggesting that “they appear to correspond to the two main types of net, the throw-net and the seine, used in NT times and up to the present in Palestine.”326 In this he reflects the opinion of most expositors and versions (e.g., KJV, NIV, NJB). This view is also supported by the distinction made in the LXX, which reads respectively ἀμφίβληστρον (“casting net”) and σαγήνη (“dragnet,” “sweep net”), words that remain distinguished into NT times (cf. Matt. 4:18-20 with 13:47-48).327 Keil, however, suggests that חֶרֶם refers to a net in general whereas מִכְמֶרֶת designates “the large fishing-net ( σαγήνη), the lower part of which when sunk, touches the bottom, whilst the upper part floats on the top of the water.”328 His view is reflected in the NASB, which translates the terms as “net and “fishing net.” Still another opinion is put forward by A. van Selms, who calls the מִכְמֶרֶת “a net cast from the shore, which falls flat on the water and sinks by means of leaden weights,” and חֶרֶם “a seine, leaded on one edge and provided with floats on the other; it is paid out from boats and gradually drawn in to the shore.”329 I have followed Armerding and the majority of scholars not only on the basis of the LXX but also because Ezekiel 47:10 seems to relate חֶרֶם to nets that are cast by fishermen standing on the shore, while מִכְמֶרֶת is mentioned by Isaiah (Isa. 19:8) as being employed by fishermen on the water.330

יִשְׂמַח וְיָגִיל (“he rejoices and is glad”): The verbs are two of several words in the OT for rejoicing. While the former verb appears to emphasize the general feeling of joyfulness of disposition that a person “feels all over,” the latter lays stress on the more emotional, enthusiastic, and, at times, spontaneous expression of joy. They are often used together to express total gladness, sometimes perhaps as hendiadys (cf. Pss. 14:7; 32:11; 53:6 [HB 53:7]; 1 Chron. 16:31).331 The words appear in parallelism in Ugaritic also, often as set pairs.332

1:16 יְזַבֵּחַ (“he sacrifices”) and יְקַטֵּר (“he burns incense”): These verbs are used in connection with the various worship services mentioned in the OT, but the former occurs only three times in contexts dealing with the proper worship of God (1 Kings 8:5; 2 Chron. 5:6; 30:22) and the latter probably never, although doubtful occurrences have been suggested in 1 Kings 22:43 (HB 22:44); 2 Kings 15:4, 35.333 Thus Armerding correctly observes that when these verbs occur together they always have connotations of illegitimate worship; hence “the prophet was complaining that the Babylonians were clearly guilty of according to their own power the honor and strength due to God alone.”334

שָׁמֵן and בְּרִאָה both mean “fat.” The translations “abundant” and “plenteous” are ad sensum. These adjectives testify to the luxurious lifestyle of the Chaldeans gained as a result of their rapacious looting. The NJB not inappropriately translates: “For by these they get a rich living and live off the fat of the land.” Though the root שָׁמֵן can be employed to describe God-given prosperity (Isa. 30:23; Ezek. 34:14), like its companion adjective (cf. the masc. sing. form בָּרִיא in Ps. 73:4) it can be employed with regard to the wicked who have gained their riches through ungodly living (Jer. 5:26-28; Ezek. 34:16).

1:17 †For חֶרְמוֹ (“his dragnet”) K. J. Cathcart, building on the use of the verb רִיק in Ps. 35:3, proposes a transposition of consonants to read romh£o‚ (“his spear”).335 More suggestive, however, is the reading of 1QpHab חרבו (“his sword”). Yet, whereas “sword” makes good sense with the verb “empty” and whereas the two words do occur together in the OT (e.g., Ex. 15:9; Lev. 26:33; Ezek. 12:14), the MT here preserves the imagery of fishing and the net found in the previous verses. The Chaldean “fishermen” keep emptying their loaded nets and continuing their fishing.

וְתָמִיד (“and continually”): BHS suggests the deletion of the conjunction as dittography. The conjunction is also absent from 1QpHab and Pesh. but read with the following negative: “Their sword is ever drawn to slay nations and does not spare (them).” The MT is the harsher reading and therefore probably to be retained. Its difficult syntax can be explained either by (1) understanding the Chaldeans as the subject of לֹא יַחְמוֹל (lit. “he does not spare”) employed with the ל of reference or respect (i.e., “he shall continually have no compassion with reference to slaying the nations”) or (2) viewing לֹא יַחְמוֹל as a circumstantial clause used as a substitute for an adverb (“unsparingly”) while taking לַהֲרֹג as an example of the utilization of the preposition ל with an infinitive construct in looser subordination with a gerundive effect that virtually takes the place of a finite verb, hence “slay” with the nuance of consequence or result.336 The latter is perhaps the better alternative.337 Armerding suggests that a double meaning of חָמַל is intended here, noting that this verb “is used of holding back or refraining from an action, and commonly of pity as the attitude that causes one to hold back or remove from harm. Both ideas are appropriate here.”338 Thus the Chaldeans are accused of continually slaying nations without sparing and without pity.

הַעַל כֵּן (“shall he therefore”): No sufficient reason exists for omitting the interrogative particle with the LXX, Pesh. and 1QpHab or for viewing the MT as composed of ה (an interrogative particle) + על (“Most High”) + כּן (“Just One”) and translating, with Dahood, “O Most High, Just One.”339

BDB observes that עַל־כֵּן introduces more customarily than לָכֵן (“therefore”) “the statement of a fact, rather than a declaration.340 That being the case, Habakkuk must be building his argument on the full flow of thought of these verses. He points out that because the rampaging Chaldean will gather his booty without restraint he will ”therefore” rejoice; because of his unbridled joy he will “therefore” worship only the might that has made him rich; “therefore,” wonders Habakkuk, will he go on forever and unabatedly in his looting and killing? Thus the three occurrences of עַל־כֵּן are for logical (almost a veiled sorites) and dramatic effect.

2:1אֶעֱמֹדָה (“I will stand”) is a qal cohortative of resolve or determination. The noun, מִשְׁמֶרֶת although used at times with reference to a general post (Isa. 28:8), stresses more the idea of watching as an activity (cf. Josh. 22:3) or as the object of such activity (cf. Deut. 11:1). Accordingly it is translated “watch” (KJV, NIV, RSV), whereas the place (but cf. Isa. 21:8) where such activity is carried on (i.e., a [guard] post; note NASB, NJB) is denoted by the cognate noun מִשְׁמָר (“guard post,” Neh. 4:3). Thus the emphasis here is probably more on the activity of standing watch, the place itself being supplied in the parallel line by מָצוֹר (“ramparts”).

†The verb צָפָה (“look at”) is used of a careful and scrutinizing look. It was particularly suited for the duties of the watchman manning the city’s walls or his tower. The participial form came to mean “watchman” (cf. 2 Kings 9:17-20). The figure of the watchman is often applied to the office and activities of the prophet (e.g., Isa. 52:7-10; Jer. 6:17; Ezek. 3:17). The imagery here is reminiscent of Isa. 21:6-8.

עַל־תּוֹכַחְתִּי (“concerning my reproof”): The phrase is probably deliberately placed to form a chiasmus with the opening עַל־מִשְׁמַרְתִּי.

The Prophet’s Perplexities and
God’s Explanations, Part Two
(Habakkuk 2:2-20)

For the prophet’s latest perplexity (1:12-2:1) a patient God has a ready reply: He is in control of all earth’s history, working through the ebb and flow of its changing historical scenes to the accomplishment of His wise and holy purposes. The challenge to Habakkuk is to respond in understanding and trust. The section begins with introductory matters (vv. 2-3), continues with basic principles that Habakkuk needs to keep in mind (v. 4), and contains a long discourse on the Chaldeans’ future demise (vv. 5, 6-20).

D. Second Explanation: God Controls All Nations According To His Purposes (2:2-20)

From a literary perspective, the chapter is carefully constructed (see introduction). The central focus is on the problems that disturbed God’s prophet: (1) How could a righteous God use a wicked people to chastise a people less wicked than themselves? (2) Could the rampaging of such a vicious nation ever be checked? God answers these two questions by pointing out that He is aware of the standards of righteousness attained by nations and individuals and thus will deal justly with all (v. 4). This means judgment also for the ungodly Chaldeans (v. 5), who are under His supervisory control (vv. 6-20). In relating God’s reply to his perplexities, Habakkuk ties it to the previous section by his skillful use of the stitch-words צַדִּיק ( s£addîq, “righteous[ness],” “just [one]”), בּוֹגֵד ( bo‚ge„d, “treacherous,” “betrays”), and אָסַף ( áa„sap, “gathers”), each of which portrays the Lord’s awareness of the clear distinctions between two classes of men and nations. The chapter, then, provides a dramatic contrast between the righteous, who live out their lives faithfully (v. 4b) and in humble submission to a holy God (v. 20), and the wicked, who will ultimately be punished because of their godlessness (vv. 4a, 5-19).

Other literary features command the reader’s attention: taunt songs/woe oracles (vv. 6-8, 9-11, 12-14, 15-17, 18-20), proverb (v. 6), simile and metaphor (vv. 5, 7, 8, 15, 16), allegory (vv. 15-16), hendiadys (vv. 2, 3[?], 6[?]), metonymy and merismus (v. 5), personification (vv. 5, 11), rhetorical question (vv. 13, 18), alliteration (vv. 15, 18), assonance (vv. 2, 6, 7), paronomasia (v. 19), enjambment (v. 18), gender-matched parallelism (v. 5), and chiasmus (vv. 3, 4, 6, 9, 14, 16). Despite its difficulty of interpretation at places (e.g., v. 4; see Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4), it is a masterpiece of prophetic literature.

1. Preliminary Instructions (2:2-3)

Before God’s specific points of reply are given to Habakkuk, He has preliminary instructions for His prophet. The Lord’s commands are intended to prepare Habakkuk for The revelation of crucial issues relative to the operations of divine government (v. 4) that will introduce the discussion of the whole matter of Habakkuk’s concern: the disposition of the voracious Chaldeans (vv. 5, 6-20).


And the LORD answered me and said,

      “Write down the vision*

      and make it plain on tablets,

      so that the one who reads it may run.

3For the vision is a witness* to the appointed time;

      it testifies* to the end

      and will not prove false*.

If it tarries, wait for it;

      for it will come and* not be late*.”

Exegesis and Exposition

In reporting the Lord’s reply, Habakkuk stresses its personal nature: “The LORD answered me.” The prophet had laid his perplexity before the Lord, expecting divine correction (1:12-2:1). The Lord’s answer was given directly to and for Habakkuk, to help him understand. But because Habakkuk doubted the principles at work in the divine activity—just as many have doubted—the Lord’s answer also carried a charge, namely, that the Lord’s response was to be shared with all people.

Habakkuk was told to write* the issue of the divine reply upon tablets*. If Habakkuk was literally to write down the divine dispatch, the question arises as to its extent. Various suggestions have been offered, some identifying the text of the message with v. 4 (Craigie, Feinberg), some with vv. 4b-5 (Brownlee, Humbert), others with all of vv. 4 and 5 (Ward), and still others deciding that the length of the communication is uncertain (e.g., Laetsch).341

To reach a final solution one must consider the word “tablets.” Though these could be viewed as large stones, such as in the case of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 24:12; see Additional Notes), the author could intend small tablets of whatever material.342 That the word is plural could suggest multiple copies to be hand carried by men serving as heralds that others might hear the message (cf. Jer. 51:59-64). That the heralds would carry a written dispatch rather than an oral communication would emphasize the seriousness of the divine directive. If this was the case, the message was doubtless a short one, probably encompassing no more than v. 4. But to whom would these dispatches be carried? Would they go to Judah’s leaders (cf. Jer. 36), or perhaps to foreign nations (cf. Isa. 30:8)? Lack of clarity as to this latter question warns against too quickly adopting the idea of heralds carrying several tablets.

The message was to be written plainly* so that those who passed by* might be able to understand it and bear the news to others. Though the figure of reading and running may indicate the activity of a prophet (Keil) or may simply intend that all who pass by may read it (S. R. Driver, Feinberg, Laetsch), it raises again the possibility of the literary motif of a herald “whose role would thus be to ‘run with the message’ (cf. 1 Sam. 4:12; 2 Sam. 18:19-27; Esther 3:13, 15; 8:10, 14; Jer. 51:31).”343 That the text reads “he who reads it may run” rather than “he who runs may read” favors strongly the motif of the herald (NIV). But because not only Habakkuk but all who read God’s communication were to serve as heralds, all three of these views are in a sense complementary, the figure of the herald being adopted in order that prophets and all others might understand God’s Word and carry it on to others. The message was for all.

Perhaps the simplest solution, then, to the understanding of the passage is not to press any of the details of the context beyond their more obvious intent. It is enough to see that Habakkuk is given a personalized reply. Rather than being a mere answer or correction of his thinking, God’s Word is also a commission to further service. Whether or not he is literally to take tablets and write on them, he is to communicate a message of lasting importance. Everyone who reads or hears these words is to consider himself a herald of a significant communication intended for all people everywhere. Probably the precise words are to be found in verse 4, the latter part of which is of crucial significance. C. L. Feinberg observes that it “became the watchword of Christianity, is the key to the whole book of Habakkuk and is the central theme of all the Scriptures.”344

As further preparation for that central thesis of divine government, Habakkuk is given the reason for the urgency of the message: the revelation will find its culmination in God’s appointed time.* That period is reserved to God’s discretion and direction. For Habakkuk this lay in the future, even though its realization was already at work in his day (1:5). Indeed, the revelation was meant to stand as a witness that testified unerringly of God’s bringing His purposes to pass.

The immediate context naturally has to do with Judah’s vindication and the Chaldeans’ judgment (Hailey), but because this vital message that was to be shared with all (v. 4) is given as a basic truth upon which God’s governing of individuals and nations is built, the outworking of the details of the appointed time would serve as a harbinger for the future. Each successive application of the message would point to the final end (Feinberg, Keil), the last appointed time when “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15; NIV). Then the application of the principles of the inscribed revelation will be seen to have been operative all along, a witness to God’s just handling of history.

Because the appointed time lay in the future, it might seem to be delayed or perhaps postponed indefinitely (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3-4). If it seemed to tarry long, Habakkuk and all heralds were to wait patiently for its coming, for it would surely come. So it has been with all subsequent Habakkuks and heralds. As Craigie points out, each believer must keep in mind that God’s time is not man’s time:

Just as, in human life, the timing of certain actions and events is of crucial importance, so it is also in the divine scheme of things.... The apparent lack of divine action, which may cause faith to falter, is in reality only our inability to perceive the timing of divine action. We must try to learn Habakkuk’s lesson: “If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay” (verse 3).345

Additional Notes

2:2 †For חָזוֹן (“vision”) see the exposition of Nah. 1:1. Armerding observes that this noun is “almost invariably supersensory in nature,” hence follows NIV in translating it “revelation.”346 The divine command to inscribe the חָזוֹן for all to see supports this idea; therefore to translate “Read the revelation” would not be inappropriate.

וּבָאֵרּ ... כְּתוֹב (“write ... and make plain”) can be treated as hendiadys: “Write the vision plainly.” The traditional translation, however, may be more emphatic: “Write ... and (be sure to) make it plain.” The second imperative may refer either to the clarity of the understanding of the message or to its legibility. The accompanying reference to the writing material favors the latter.

הַלֻּתוֹת (“the tablets”): Ewald suggests that the tablets in question were customarily erected in marketplaces. Such tablets were set up so that public notices could be written on them. Similarly, Laetsch proposes that these tablets might have been erected in any public place, including locations along highways or in temple courts. Keil and Delitzsch think that the reference is general, the definite article referring to the particular tablets that Habakkuk was to inscribe. Though this observation is valid, Laetsch’s point concerning the erection of tablets has the advantage of historical parallel (cf. 1 Macc. 14:25-49). For other scriptural examples of the motif of revelation inscribed on tablets, see Isa. 8:1; 30:8; Jer. 17:1.

As for יָרוּץ (“he may run”), J. M. Holt suggests that this part of the command be taken metaphorically, the running being understood as living obediently (cf. Ps. 119:32; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; Phil. 3:13-14).347 This proposal again raises the question of whether the command to write the revelation is to be understood literally or figuratively. The traditional interpretation takes the command to be literal and assumes that its main purpose is that of preserving (Armerding) or disseminating (Laetsch) the message. Keil opts for a figurative understanding, proposing that all of the passages dealing with prophetic activity and the writing on tablets are also to be understood figuratively:

We therefore prefer the figurative view, just as in the case of the command issued to Daniel, to shut up his prophecy and seal it (Dan. xii.4), inasmuch as the literal interpretation of the command, especially of the last words, would require that the table should be set up or hung out in some public place, and this cannot for a moment be thought of. The words simply express the thought, that the prophecy is to be laid to heart by all the people on account of its great importance, and that not merely in the present, but in the future also.348

Whether literal or figurative, certainly all of the emphases that the commentators have suggested are true to the test. The message is to be clearly understood, assimilated, preserved, and propagated. The imagery of running suggests that even the most hurried passerby may see and quickly understand it (S. R. Driver) and then herald its message to others. The idea of tablets brings to mind the lasting quality and applicability of a message that is geared for an “appointed time” (v. 3).

2:3 †For MT עוֹד (“yet”), read עֵד (“witness”).

לֹא יְכַזֵּב ... יָפֵחַ (“testifies ... will not prove false”). The translation proposed here (cf. NIV) follows the lead of Janzen, who cites the evidence of Proverbs (Prov. 6:19; 12:17; 14:5, 25; 19:5, 9), where יפח is used in connection with the speaking of truth or falsehood.349 In all but one of these (Prov. 12:17) it occurs in combination with כָּזַב. Common to these contexts also is the appearance of עֵד, giving a strong presumption for its reading here in the first line of the verse as suggested in the previous note.

Further support for all this comes from M. Dahood, who finds another parallel between עֵד and יפח in Ps. 27:12 that he relates to Ugaritic yph£, “witness,” “testifier.”350 Both Dahood and Janzen take yph£ as a noun rather than from פּוּחַ (“blow,” “breathe”) in all of the suggested instances as well as here, but the parallel with יְכַזֵּב argues strongly for a verbal form meaning “to speak” (cf. KJV, NIV), hence “testify/bear witness to.” Certainly this yields a better explanation than the traditional “pants for the end” (Keil, Laetsch) or “hastens” (NASB, RSV), which seem out of place in light of the following admonition concerning tarrying.

מוֹעֵד (“appointed time”) is commonly used to refer to a determined time or place, its specific reference depending on context. Although it occurs in Daniel in an eschatological setting (e.g., Dan. 11:35) in parallel (as here) with קִץ (“end”), such does not prejudge a messianic interpretation for this verse (see next additional note).351

כִּי־בֹא יָבֹא (“for it will come”): The LXX makes the subject to be masc. sing., whereas the noun ὅρασις that translates the subject (MT תָזוֹן is fem. sing. This is usually understood to indicate that the translators of the LXX intended a messianic understanding here: “Wait for him, for he will surely come.”352 Corroboration of this opinion is usually sought in the citation of the LXX by the writer to the Hebrews (Heb. 10:37-38) to prove his argument concerning the need for believers to persevere in their righteous service, keeping in mind Christ’s certain return.

Two matters need to be pointed out, however: (1) The author of Hebrews has changed the LXX ἐρχόμενος ἥξει (“he/it will surely come”) into ἐρχόμενος ἥξει (“he who comes,” or “the coming one shall come”). (2) The antecedent of the masc. sing. pronoun αὐτόν (“he/it”) could be the LXX’S previous masc. sing. noun χαιρὸν (“appointed time”). Thus the LXX translation of v. 3 could have intended,

Because the vision is yet for an appointed time,

      and it will appear at length and not in vain;

if it is late, wait for it,

      for it will surely come, it will not delay.353

Although the messianic application of the text of the LXX by the writer of Hebrews may be a proper interpretation, nevertheless the freedom with which the NT writers employed the text of the LXX to frame their arguments calls for caution in finding an overt messianic reference in the LXX at this point.354

יְאַתֵר (“be late,” translating ad sensum):355 The verb is placed so as to be arranged chiastically with “if it tarries” in the previous line, but the usual translation of the verb as “remain behind,” “tarry/delay” appears to be at variance with the sentiment of the line. Indeed, “be late” is a related nuance and is attested for this root elsewhere in Semitic.356

וְלֹא (“and [will] not”): The translation adopted here follows the Reading of LXX, Pesh., Vg, Tg. Neb., and 1QpHab.

2. Guiding Principles (2:4)

Habakkuk now is told the basic guiding principles upon which the operation of divine government unalterably proceeds until the coming of that final appointed time.357 The revelation of these truths will make clear the culpability of the Chaldeans (v. 5), whose woe is pronounced in the rest of the chapter (vv. 6-20).


Behold,* the one whose desires are not upright is arrogant,

      but the just will live* by his faith(fulness).358

Exegesis and Exposition

God informs Habakkuk of the characteristic makeup of the wicked.359 The latter’s basic problem is an underlying selfishness that shows itself in an arrogant and presumptuous attitude.360 Rejecting God, in his conceit he gives vent to affections not in line with God’s revealed standards. Therefore, it can be said that what he desires is not upright.

The word “upright” comes from a root used of being or going straight (cf. 1 Sam. 6:12), then of being or doing right (1 Chron. 13:4). As a verb or adjective the root is employed in ethical or moral contexts both of God’s own inherent righteousness (Deut. 32:4; 25:8; etc.) and that of his followers who, because they fear God (Job 1:1, 8), are declared to be upright in heart (2 Chron. 29:34; Pss. 7:10 [HB 7:11]; 32:11; 36:10 [HB 36:11]; 94:15; 97:11; Prov. 11:6). Such persons conduct their lives doing what is right in God’s sight (Ex. 15:26; Deut. 6:18; 12:28; 13:18; etc.).

While the upright pursue the path of righteousness before God, the case is different with the wicked. Such individuals refuse God’s instruction and lordship and seek to gratify their own desires (Prov. 12:15; 21:8, 29; 29:27).361

The basic OT teaching concerning this root comes through here also in Habakkuk: Spiritually, morally, and ethically the ungodly presumptuously ignore the path of God’s righteousness to follow the way of selfish desires in the everyday decisions of life. There is a distinct contrast when one considers the upright man. Because of his righteousness (cf. Gen. 15:6; Isa. 61:10), he lives out his life in faith as well as in faithfulness to God and His commandments. In an ultimate sense, he alone really lives. As Delitzsch remarks:

It is not the sincerity, trustworthiness, or integrity of the righteous man, regarded as being virtues in themselves, which are in danger of being shaken and giving way in such times of tribulation, but, as we may see in the case of the prophet himself, his faith. To this, therefore, there is appended the great promise expressed in the one word יִהְיֶה.362

Such is ever the case. By being reminded of this truth, Habakkuk Can be assured that God follows a just principle of dealing with men and nations in accordance with their relationship to Him and His standards. Further, Habakkuk can be certain that God has abandoned neither that firm and fair rule nor the activities connected with being God. Is Habakkuk worried that those who are treacherous and wicked will consume those who are more righteous than they? Because God is a punisher of the godless and rewarder of life for the righteous, it is enough for Habakkuk to let God be God and live in humble trust in Him.363 Laetsch says it well:

Do not ask why I am using the wicked Chaldean to punish My people, righteous through faith. Leave that to Me, the all-wise God, who rules every detail of your entire life for your temporal and eternal welfare. Remain faithful, trust Me, and you shall live!364

Additional Notes

2:4 הִנֵּה (“lo/behold”): This particle is often used to introduce a new section or thought. As noted in the Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4, it can often be followed by אַף כִּי (“further”) to form an argumentum a fortiori: “if . . . how much more.” Such seems to be the literary purpose here (see additional note to 2:5).

Because of the difficulties inherent in v. 4, some have suggested that הִנֵּה is to be treated in a different way, as for example a noun with a definite article ( הַנָּה, hanna‚, “the eminent man”365) or by combining it with the following verb as a niphal participle ( הַנֶּעֱלָף).366 But the juxtaposition of אַף כִּי . . . הִנֵּה in succeeding sentences makes such attempts tenuous at best.

יִחְיֶה (“[the just/righteous] will live”): E. B. Smick emphasizes that for the OT believer faith was a totality of all of man’s being and experiences, including the spiritual dimension. Accordingly a man’s quality of life “is decided by a right relationship to the righteous standards of the Word of God.” Thus it can be safely said, “By cleaving to God, the righteous have life (Hab. 2:4; cf. Amos 5:4, 14; Jer. 38:20).”367

3. Specific Applications (2:5-20)

The Lord now answers Habakkuk’s perplexity. Building on the principles of his righteous government just revealed (v. 4), he applies them to the case of the unrighteous Chaldean. He begins with a description of the life situation of the arrogant one, a depiction that refers to the Chaldean (v. 5). Because the desires of the Chaldean are not upright, his judgment will ultimately come. A series of five woes, given in the form of the ancient taunt song, further describes the unrighteous character of the Chaldean, for which he will one day be judged (vv. 6-20).

a. The case of the Chaldeans (2:5)

Indeed*, presumption* betrays an impetuous* man,

      and he is never at rest*,

so that he enlarges his desire* like Sheol*

      and like death he is never satisfied;

he gathers to himself all the nations

      and collects to himself all the peoples.

Exegesis and Exposition

Utilizing the divine pronouncement (v. 4) and building on its principles, God’s answer takes the form of an argumentum a fortiori: If it is true that the arrogant have ungodly desires and so, unlike the righteous, never come to enjoy the blessings of God, how much more certain is it that the qualities that accompany such an attitude will ultimately betray them!

In his sinful arrogance the wicked is betrayed by presumption. In his impetuousness he is ever restless, so that his selfish ambitions foster an unholy desire toward everyone and everything. So insatiable is his greed that it can be compared to the uncontrollable appetite of death, here personified as a voracious monster. As death and the grave continue their never-ending quest to swallow up life (until they in turn are conquered by the Life-giver, Hos. 13:14; 1 Cor. 15:55-57), so the Chaldean will swallow up all before him. In his aggression and expansion he will gather all nations and peoples under his control. Nevertheless, the underlying implication is clear: the Chaldean’s selfishness and success will prove to be his undoing.

The Lord’s words refer to Habakkuk’s fears and reaffirm his earlier description of the Chaldeans (1:9). The Lord does not minimize the coming danger. What Habakkuk must see, however, is that given the Lord’s principles of dealing with men, He will surely allow the Chaldeans to seal their own doom. As a just God He will ultimately deal with such an unrighteous nation, whose “desire is not upright in him,” as it deserves.

Additional Notes

2:5וְאַף כִּי (“indeed”): The compound particle is employed by Habakkuk to stand in syntactic relation to the הִנֵּה of the divine pronouncement (v. 4) in order to form an argumentum a fortiori.368 Laetsch observes that it “is most frequently used to introduce a climax, advancing from the lesser to the greater, ‘how much more,’ or an anti-climax, ‘how much less.’“369

הַיַּיִו (lit. “the wine”): The sudden introduction of wine as a betrayer has been questioned by many. Although some see here a reference to one of the sins that contributed to the demise of the Chaldeans,370 other solutions have been put forward. One suggestion was made by Emerton, who proposed repointing the MT to הוֹן (“wealth”), a reading found in 1QpHab.371 It is difficult, however, to see how wealth is more suitable to the context than wine. Houtsma372 proposed reading הַוָּן or הַיָּן (“proud man/presumptuous one”), while A. S. van der Woude373 postulated a verbal form יָהִין or הִיֵּן. This idea is attractive in that the verb הון (“be light,” hence in a derived stem probably “make light of,” “presume”) occurs in Deut. 1:41 where it replaces the verb עָפַל (cf. Hab. 2:4) in the earlier parallel text of Num. 14:44.

Although van der Woude’s suggestion struggles with other features of vv. 4-5, Houtsma’s view is both simple and contextually sound. (1) It allows the word in question to relate naturally to the following participle. (2) It anticipates the thought of its object, the impetuous man. (3) It finds support in some manuscripts of the LXX that read χατοιόμενος (“conceited”).374 (4) The rarity of an original reading הוּן here best explains a shift to the more familiar “wine” in both the MT and majority of the manuscripts of the LXX, as well as the appearance of “wealth” in 1QpHab.375 (5) It finds support in the parallel term עֻפְּלָה (“arrogant”) in the argumentation of vv. 4-5. Indeed, the probability of the reflection of two rare roots drawn from parallel Pentateuchal passages ( עפל, Num. 14:44; הון, Deut. 1:41) in one context is so unlikely that their appearance here is striking.

Though a plausible case can be made for the MT “wine,” Houtsma’s view is provisionally adopted here. Thus I suggest reading הַוָּן/ הַיָּן in the sense of “presumption.” So understood it forms an appropriate parallel with “arrogant” in v. 4 and provides a suitable flow to the rest of the sentence: “Presumption betrays an impetuous man.”

יָהִיר (“impetuous”): This adjective occurs elsewhere only in Prov. 21:24, where it is parallel to זֵד (“proud/insolent”). It is rendered by the LXX as καταφρονητής (“contemptuous”) and by the Pesh. as mara„h£a„ (“willful,” “presumptuous,” “headstrong”). Coupled with גֶּבֶר (“man”) and the following phrases it yields a picture of a strong-willed man whose presumption knows no rest, so that in his greed he enslaves all who come in contact with him. The choice of גֶּבֶר rather than other possible words for man is doubtless deliberate, emphasizing his personal strength, both physical and psychological.376

יִנְוֶה וְלֹא (“he is never at rest”): The verb here is a hapax legomenon, its meaning being variously assigned chiefly on the basis of the related noun נָוָה (“meadow/pasture”) and the adjective נָוֶה (“dwelling/abiding”) as well as by contextual constraints. Thus the NASB (cf. KJV, NKJV) renders it “He does not stay at home,” the NJB reads “He is forever on the move,” and R. Smith favors “He shall not survive.”377 The translation adopted here follows the NIV in the sense of “never takes pasture,” hence “is not at rest.” Possessed of a consuming ambition, the wicked is always on the move, never settling down.

שְׁאוֹל (“Sheol”): The rendering given above (cf. NASB, NJB) transliterates the MT without implication regarding its relation to the afterlife. The word has been variously translated here as either “grave” (NIV), “death” (KJV), “hell” (NKJV), or “underworld” (LXX, Vg). The variations reflect the wide differences of opinion among OT scholars as to the concept of the afterlife in OT times and the semantic range of this word. At the very least the meaning “grave” (cf. Gen. 37:35; Ps. 16:10; Hos. 13:14) and “place of the (wicked) dead” (Pss. 49:14 [HB 49:15]; 55:15 [HB 55:16]) are established for the OT, whatever one may believe as to the concept of an OT netherworld much like that found in the literature of Israel’s neighbors. I am personally convinced that Israel did not share the pagan concept of an underworld for all souls, nor did it espouse the so-called “two-compartment theory” that developed in intertestamental Judaism and the early church. That the OT teaches that at death believers could expect to live in the presence of God seems evident from the following texts: Job 14:14-15; 19:23-27; Pss. 16:10-11; 17:15; 49:14-15 (HB 49:15-16); 73:23-28; Dan. 12:2.378

If one were to choose a specific translation (rather than transliterating the word), the parallel with “death” in the following line would favor the NIV’s “grave” (cf. Hos. 13:14 with 1 Cor. 15:54-56; see also Isa. 28:15, 18; Ps. 6:5 [HB 6:6]). Indeed, the deliberate use of gender-matched parallelism here to express merismus indicates that such is probably the author’s intent.379 The greed of the wicked Chaldean is thus linked to the eventuality of death and the grave.

נַפְשׁוֹ (“his desire”): נֶפֶשׁ is variously translated here in the English versions as “appetite” (NASB, NJB), “greed” (RSV; cf. NIV), and “desire” (KJV, NKJV). In other contexts נֶפֶשׁ appears to refer to “throat” (Ps. 106:15) or “neck” (Pss. 57:6 [HB 57:7]; 69:1 [HB 69:2]) as well as to “soul” (Ps. 16:10) or “life” (Ps. 38:12 [HB 38:13]) or as a possible equivalent of a personal pronoun (Ps. 54:4, 5 [HB 54:5, 6]).380 At times it seems to represent the whole person (Lev. 17:10), so B. Waltke may well be correct in deciding that “nephesh means the whole self, a unity of flesh, will and vitality.”381

The translating of נֶפֶשׁ as “desire” in vv. 4-5 is an attempt to select a meaning suitable for both verses. The broad semantic range of this word, however, may indicate that all attempts to be overly precise with the meaning of נֶפֶשׁ are unnecessary.

נֶפֶשׁ serves as a stitch-word with the previous declaration of v. 4 and is repeated in v. 10. Other words/terms found in v. 5 that occur later in this section include שָׂבַע (v. 16) and the terms “nations” and “peoples” (vv. 6-8, 13).382

b. The first woe: The plundering Chaldean will be despoiled (2:6-8)

Habakkuk now divulges the divine estimation of the Chaldean. He gives that information in a series of woes recorded in the form of the ancient taunt song, which may be analyzed in terms of the following standard elements: invective, threat, and reason for the condemnation (see chart on p. 184).


Will not all of them* take up a taunt song* against him with ridicule* and riddles* for him? They will say,

“Woe to him who realizes increase with what is not his—for how long?—

      and makes himself wealthy by extortion*!

7Will not your creditors* rise up suddenly

      and your collectors* awaken,

      and you will become spoil for them?

8Because you have plundered* many nations,

      all the remainder of peoples will plunder you,

      because of the shedding of human blood

      and the violence against lands, cities,

      and all who inhabit them.”

Exegesis and Exposition

The Lord informs Habakkuk that all of the nations and peoples gathered into the Chaldeans’ net of conquest will take up songs against them. Using words drawn from the repertoire of wisdom literature, Habakkuk predicts the threat against the Chaldeans by means of “taunt song,” “ridicule,” and “riddle.” All three terms indicate that the Chaldeans’ former client kingdoms and victims will one day cast the Chaldeans’ once-proud boasts and claims back in their teeth with cleverly devised words intended to mock them.

Each of the five woes considers one or more of the Chaldeans’ sins (see chart). The first woe centers on the Chaldeans’ rapacity. The language recalls their multiplying of wealth at the expense of others. Their far-reaching conquests are amply documented. After their victories over the Assyrians at Carchemish in 605 B.C., capped by their

Habakkuk’s Five Woes (2:6-20)








v. 6

v. 9

v. 12

v. 15

v. 19a

Woe to the:








v. 7

v. 11

v. 13

v. 16

v. 19b

He will be:








v. 8

v. 10

v. 14

v. 17

vv. 18, 20

Grounded in:

Spoiling of the nations

Scheming against peoples

Surety of the knowledge of God

Stripping of man/nature

Supremacy of God

push down the Mediterranean coast after the fleeing Egyptians (the Assyrians’ supporters at Carchemish), the Chaldeans soon became masters of all Syro-Palestine. Other campaigns led Nebuchadnezzar to Asia Minor, Egypt (cf. Ezek. 29:19-21), and Arabia (cf. Jer. 49:28). Eventually the whole southern portion of the once-vast Assyrian empire lay under Chaldean control. The eagerness of the Chaldeans to take captive men and material wealth is often recorded in the Babylonian Chronicles. The following citations are typical:

All the kings of the H¬atti-land came before him and he received their

      heavy tribute.

He marched to the city of Askelon and captured it in the month of


He captured its king and plundered it and carried off [spoil from

      it ......]

In the sixth year in the month of Kislev the king of Akkad mustered

      his army and marched to the H¬atti-land. From the H¬atti-land he

      sent out his companies,

and scouring the desert they took much plunder from the Arabs, their

      possessions, animals and gods. In the month of Adar the king

      returned to his own land.383

“How long will it go on?” Is the question Habakkuk’s own plaintive cry?384 Most expositors suggest that the question is that of the nations and peoples, perhaps out of a desire for relief from oppression (Keil), maybe out of indignation (Feinberg), or as an expression of sarcasm, the implication of which is “not for long” (Laetsch).385 Indeed, the proud Neo-Babylonian empire would last for less than a hundred years (626-539 B.C.), its demise occurring within a generation after the death of its greatest king, Nebuchadnezzar II, in 562 B.C.

The depth of the Chaldeans’ insensitivity toward others may be seen in that they add to their riches by extorting pledges from their debtors. Though such behavior would be particularly offensive to the people of Judah because it was condemned in the Torah, it would also be a violation against all mankind (cf. Job 24:3, 9-10). In any case, the charge is but an example of the Chaldeans’ unjust activities and provides entrée into the following metaphor taken from the world of finance.

Verse 7 reveals that those who had been so oppressed as to have even their basic necessities of life, given in honest pledge, confiscated by their Chaldean creditors now themselves become creditors. Because the Chaldeans took advantage of the nations through conquest and extortion, they will owe the nations a great deal. Thus the Chaldeans will accumulate a debt that must be repaid. One day the debt will be recalled, the nations arising suddenly and “calling in their loans.” They will send collectors who will press their claims for back payment with a force equal to that of the Chaldeans’ former violence. Because the term “creditors” ( נשְׁכִים, no„sŒeŒkîm) is related to the word for “interest” ( נֶשֶׁךְ, nesŒek), Keil suggests that “there would come upon the Chaldaean those who would demand back with interest . . . the capital of which he had unrighteously taken possession, just as he had unmercifully taken the goods of the nations from them by usury and pawn.”386 Whether or not this idea is present, the law of just retribution would be applied.

The suddenness of calling in the debt predicted here came to pass. Although the Persian King Cyrus the Great spent the early days of his reign securing the subservience of neighboring peoples, he would one day be ready to move swiftly. His conquest of the Medes in 550 B.C. opened a claim to all the former Median territory, an area that composed the northern portion of the former Assyrian empire. After Lydia fell to Cyrus in 546 B.C., Cyrus quickly subdued all of mainland Asia Minor and the adjacent Greek islands. Within a few short years, then, Cyrus found himself ruler of a territory that included all of the Iranian plateau westward across the northern Fertile Crescent and on to the Greek islands off the coast of Asia Minor. The next strike would take him against the Chaldeans, who capitulated rapidly after the loss of Babylon on October 13, 539 B.C.387 So great was the relief felt by all in that day that

Cyrus entered Babylon not as a conqueror but as liberator. The temples were not profaned and the safety of the city was guaranteed. Cyrus took as his title ‘King of Babylon, Sumer and Accad, and the four countries of the world’. He went further and claimed to have been chosen by Marduk as is shown in a Babylonian text: ‘Marduk gave thought to all the lands, he saw them and sought a righteous king, a king after his own heart whom he would lead by the hand. He called his name Cyrus, king of Anshan! and appointed him to be king over all things’.388

R. Ghirshman adds that

Cyrus presented himself to the Babylonian people not as a conqueror but as a liberator and the legitimate successor to the crown. . . . He restored to their temples all the statues of the gods which Nabonidus had brought into the capital and, at the great New Year Festival, following the custom of the Babylonian kings, he took the hand of the god Bel and by this gesture legalized the new line of Babylonian kings.389

Some have found difficulty relating the facts of history to the statement concerning the “remainder of the peoples” who would plunder the Chaldeans. The “remainder” could refer to those “nations that remain” (NJB), either those untouched by Chaldean conquest or those that survived in some fashion. Since the Hebrew word here “always denotes the remnant which is left after the deduction of a portion,”390 the term probably refers primarily to those peoples and nations within the Neo-Babylonian orbit that escaped annihilation. A reference to the Elamites could also be intended. The Chaldeans’ campaigning had included forays against the Elamites, and nominally the Iranian plateau, though unoccupied by the Chaldeans, was part of the Medo-Babylonian alliance. Whatever its referent, the term “remainder” is probably general and is certainly not inappropriate.

The chief point, then, is that the plundering Chaldean will eventually know the effects of plunder himself. He who had so misused others, conquering, looting, and enslaving many, will himself experience the conqueror’s heel and learn the sorrow of those whose men and possessions have been carried off as booty.

Habakkuk directs a further charge against the Chaldeans. In their quest for booty they would probably destroy all that was before them, be it country or city or human life itself. Too often they will shed innocent blood for the sake of their uncontrollable lust. Indeed, they will leave a trail of sorrow across the ancient Near East that would be easy to trace. Therefore, they who would shed the blood of so many and violently treat all who stand in their way would be guilty of crimes against all humanity. For that they must suffer the judgment of God. The principles in Obadiah’s pronouncement against the Edomites will also take effect against the Chaldeans: “As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head” (Obad. 15, NIV).

Additional Notes

2:6 †The phrase כֻלָּם אֵלֶּה (lit. “these, all of them”) has stirred up controversy among the commentators. R. Smith comes to the crux of the issue:

There is no antecedent to “these, all of them” in v 6. The “nations” and “peoples” in v 5 seem to be the antecedent. But is it logical for the pagan nations to be pronouncing “woe” on the guilty one in the name of Yahweh of hosts (v 13)? Would the nations speak about the earth being filled with the knowledge of God as waters cover the sea (v 14), or would they condemn the making of idols? Probably not. If the words of the woes are inconsistent in the mouths of the nations how do we explain “these” and “all of them” in v 6?391

Smith appears to favor the thought that the woes are the expression of Habakkuk himself (so also Craigie, Freeman) or perhaps of everyone (reading כֻþ ה for כֻלָּם). F. C. Eiselen opts for Habakkuk, who is putting his words into the mouths of the nations.392 Keil decides for the true believers among the oppressed peoples, and many (e.g., Feinberg, Hailey, Laetsch, von Orelli; cf. NJB and the note in The NIV Study Bible) favor the nations as such. Perhaps the whole matter is somewhat academic, the problem arising chiefly due to the literary demands of the section. Pronounced by God and communicated by His prophet, these words and those that follow will also be on the lips of the nations and peoples who will suffer at the hands of the Chaldeans.

מָשָׁל (“taunt song”), מְלִיצָה (“ridicule”), and חִידוֹח (“riddles”) are words drawn from wisdom literature. The first is a generic term that has many English equivalents. Drawn from the circles of popular wisdom, it most commonly refers to pithy generalizations on common life situations and so is translated “proverb.”393 But it can be used in negative contexts, especially in predictions of doom expressed in a derisive manner, hence a taunt (cf. Isa. 14:4; Mic. 2:4).

Whereas מָשָׁל may intend to teach by drawing comparisons between matters that must be first apprehended if its full implications are to be grasped, the riddle gives instruction through enigma (cf. Judg. 14:12-19).394 It too can appear in a negative context (cf. Ezek. 17:2-10). מְלִיצָה is a mocking poem or satire destined to heap ridicule on the object of its scorn by allusive discourse.395 The occurrence of all three words together in Prov. 1:8 in a neutral context demonstrates that all three literary types were familiar tools available to the sage. Here they are brought together to indicate that the Chaldean will be condemned and caricatured by many a cunning remark.

For הוֹי (“woe”), see the additional note on Nah. 3:1. לּא־לוֹ (lit. “not to him,” i.e., “not his”) is elliptical for “that which is not his.” It forms a case of assonance with the chiastically arranged לוֹ . . . הֲלוֹא of the previous lines and anticipates the הֲלוֹא of v. 7. Syntactically it serves as the object of הַמַּרְבֶּה , hence the NIV: “piles up stolen goods.” עַר־מָחַי (“how long”) is parenthetical and is, in a sense, an incompletely formed sentence in its own right.396

עַבְטִיט (“extortion”) is a hapax legomenon from the root עבט (“take/give in pledge”), itself usually considered to be denominative from עֲבוֹט (“pledge”; cf. Akkadian ebut£t£u “loan”).397

Strict legislation regulated matters concerning the confiscation of pledges in the OT (cf. Ex. 22:26-27; Deut. 24:6, 10-13 with Job 22:6; 24:3, 9-10) as befitting a benevolent society in covenant relation with God. The violation of such laws was considered to be a grave moral offense (Job 22:6; Amos 2:8).398 The Chaldean is vilified for the inhumane practice of enriching himself by confiscating things taken in pledge. Keil suggests the presence of a double entendre here based upon the composition of עַבְטִיט from עַב (“clod,” “mass”) and טִיט (“dirt”). So understood it would symbolize the burden that the Chaldean will place on his victim, or perhaps it indicates the vast real estate the Neo-Babylonian empire will appropriate.399

2:7נשְׁכֶיךָ (lit. “those who bite you” [cf. KJV]; hence, “creditors” [cf. NASB, NJB, NKJV]): Although some prefer the image of debtors who rise up against their creditors (NIV, RSV), a turn in the thought appears more likely here, the trope being that of the debtor who, because he has been unjustly taken advantage of, has been accumulating an obligation from his creditor. Hence, he now becomes the creditor, one who will violently press his claims through his collectors ( מְזַעְזְעִים, lit. “shakers,” from זוּעַ, “quake/tremble”), despoiling his former creditors.400

2:8 †The verb שָׁלָה (“draw out,” “extort”) is used as a synonym for שָׁסָה (“spoil”) in the previous verse. Accordingly I have translated it “plundered” (cf. NIV, NJB, NKJV, RSV).

c. The second woe: The plotting Chaldean will be denounced (2:9-11)

“Woe to him who accrues evil gain to his house

      (in order) to set his nest on high,

      (so as) to escape* from the grasp of disaster!*

10You have plotted shame for your house

      by cutting off many peoples

      and sinning against yourself*.

11Surely stones from the wall will cry out,

      and the wooden rafters* will call back.”

Exegesis and Exposition

The second woe underscores the Chaldeans’ capacity for cunning schemes against mankind. Building upon the imagery in the first woe, the Chaldean is portrayed as one who achieves wealth through violence and evil means. Used as a verb, the root בצע ( bs£à, lit. “cut/break off”) means “gain one’s end through violence,” while as a noun it signifies “gain made by violence.” Both occur here together for emphasis (cognate accusative), the picture being further strengthened by the addition of the adjective “evil.” A play on the root meaning may be intended: by violently accruing unjust gain for their “house,”* the Chaldeans may have “cut off” their own “house” with evil. If so, the thought anticipates the reason for the Chaldeans’ demise given in v. 10.

The verse proceeds with a reference to the Chaldeans’ building projects. An implied comparison with the eagle is probably intended. If so, just as an eagle seeks security by building his nest on the upper-most cliffs, so the Chaldeans will raise high—that is, strengthen mightily—their fortifications (cf. Jer. 49:16; Obad. 4). Although Nebuchadnezzar mentions such fortifying work elsewhere, it was particularly true of Babylon, which he enclosed with two massive walls, the outermost of which was surrounded by a moat on its east side that stretched westward to the Euphrates on the city’s northern and southern sides. The words concerning the desire to “escape from the grasp of disaster” are well illustrated in Nebuchadnezzar’s chronicles:

I brought to completion Imgur-Bel, the great wall of Babylon, the city of the great lord Marduk. At the thresholds of the city-gates I stationed strong wild-bulls of bronze, and serpents standing erect. I dug its moat and reached the bottom of the water. I built its bank with bitumen and burned brick. I had the bulwark (?) at the bank of the mighty wall built with bitumen and burned brick, like a mountain, so that it could not be moved.

In order to strengthen the watchtower of Esagila, that the enemy and the destroyer might not approach Babylon, I threw around the city on the outer wall of Babylon a strong wall toward the east. I dug its moat and raised its bank with bitumen and burned brick mountain-high. By the side of Babylon I constructed a dike of great masses of earth, and surrounded it with a mighty stream of many waters like the fulness of the sea, and then I threw a swamp around this. To . . . . . the life of the people of Babylon . . . . . among the cities of Sumer and Akkad I made its name great.401

Nebuchadnezzar was proud of Babylon, which he made into one of the most formidable and beautiful cities in the ancient world (cf. Dan. 4:29-30). Upon entering through one of its eight ornamented gates, a visitor was able to travel about the city on wide, well-kept streets. Among the many impressive buildings were dozens of temples and, of course, Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. The palace complex was lavishly furnished and enclosed with a wall 136 feet thick. In the outer course of the wall, Nebuchadnezzar had his name inscribed on each brick. The terraced hanging gardens are said to have been located in the northeast angle of the palace complex and were considered in ancient times to be one of the seven wonders of the world. It is understandable, then, that Nebuchadnezzar named his palace “The Marvel of Mankind.”402

The woe now moves on to reveal the reason for the Chaldean’s doom: his constant scheming against others. Keil puts it well: “His determination to establish his house, and make it firm and lofty by evil gain, will bring shame to his house, and instead of honour and lasting glory, only shame and ruin.”403 By cutting off—degrading and destroying—many peoples, the Chaldean will sin against himself, sealing his own judgment before God. He too will be cut off forever. As Hailey remarks,

In “cutting off many peoples” to accomplish his end, he had sinned against his soul. God may use a ruler and nation to accomplish His purpose, but the man will be guilty of his cruel deeds, for he is responsible for the character he developed.404

The Chaldean was to have no lasting empire. His arrogant misuse of others and his selfish scheming against them for his own aggrandizement would one day backfire. Even the building materials in the proud city could not be silent. Though men may keep still, they who were mute witnesses to all of the Chaldean’s greedy and grandiose plots could not. In a fallen Babylon would lie the collapsed edifice of the Neo-Babylonian empire:

In the creaking of the beams connecting the “timber,” the woodwork of the roof, and in the grating of the cracking stone walls (v. 11), one can hear an awesome dirge, the stones intoning the chant, the beams responding in antiphonal death song, until they also crash down into a heap of ruins and ashes. . . . Sic transit gloria mundi.405

Additional Notes

2:9 רַע (“evil”) is chiastically arranged with its reappearance in the third line. בַּיִח (“house”) means here “family” and/or “dynasty.”

לְהִנָּצֵל (“to escape”): The niphal infinitive construct may be translated as a direct middle (“save himself,” “escape”) or as a passive (“be delivered”).

מִכַּף־רָע (lit. “from an evil hand”) has been variously rendered ad sensum as “hand of calamity” (NASB), “power of disaster/evil” (NKJV, KJV), “clutches of ruin” (NIV), “reach of harm/misfortune” (RSV, NJB). The translation above follows Laetsch’s picturesque “grasp of disaster.”

2:10חוֹטֵא (“sin”): The translation above follows the normal significance of the verb (cf. LXX, KJV, NKJV, NASB). Some, however, point to the metonymy here and translate with the following נַפְשֶׁךָ “forfeiting your life” (cf. NIV, RSV) or paraphrase the line as “You have worked your own ruin” (NJB). The persistent problem of translating נֶפֶשׁ can be seen in the different renditions of the versions: “your soul” (NKJV, cf. KJV), “your life” (NIV), “yourself” (NASB).406

2:11מֵעֵץ כָּפִיס (“wooden rafters”): כָּפִיס is commonly considered to be a (main) beam of a building (cf. KJV, NKJV, NIV, NJB, RSV). The NASB, however, proposes “rafters” (cf. KB-3). Since the word is a hapax legomenon, its appearance with עֵץ here could conceivably imply any interior use of wood. The above translation notes the correspondence with the “stones from the (outer) walls” of the parallel line as demanding reference to a foundational framework. I have followed the suggestion of the NASB because in ancient Mesopotamia the ceiling needed wood to augment the brick walls. Thus understood, מִן introduces a genitive of material or content (i.e., “rafters made from timbers,” hence “wooden rafters”).

The importance of wood in Mesopotamian buildings may be seen in Nebuchadnezzar’s account of enlarging the palace built by his father Nabopolassar:

I built a structure of burned brick, and I built very high in its tower a large chamber with bitumen and burned brick for my royal dwelling-place, and joined it to my father’s palace, and in a prosperous month, on a favourable day, I firmly laid its foundation in the bowels of the earth, and I raised high its turrets like a mountain. On the fifteenth day I brought to completion its construction, and I beautified the dwelling of my lordship. Mighty cedar trees from the snow-capped mountains, ashuhu trees with broad trunks, and cypress trees (with) costly stones, I laid in rows for its roofing.407

d. The third woe: The pillaging Chaldean will be destroyed (2:12-14)

“Woe to him who builds the city with bloodshed

      and establishes a town by injustice*!

13Is it not therefore* from Yahweh Sabaoth

      that people(s) toil for the sake of fire

      and nations exhaust themselves for nothing?

14For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge

      of the glory of the Lord,

      as the waters cover the sea.

Exegesis and Exposition

Again the discussion proceeds upon the basis of the previous woe. The image of building found in the second woe is continued in the third. Now the chief materials used in constructing the Neo-Babylonian “house” are seen for what they are: bloodshed and injustice. The Chaldeans are again (cf. v. 8) charged with the wanton shedding of blood. It is a persistent accusation (cf. v. 17). To this is added a notice of their unrighteousness. The Hebrew word suggests wrongdoing and injustice of all sorts, often taking the form of oppressive, shameful, and sometimes violent acts (cf. 2 Sam. 3:34; Mic. 3:10).408 Such conduct is an affront to a holy and righteous God (Deut. 32:4) and marks the Chaldeans as those who, unlike the righteous who reflect God’s standards, are arrogant and presumptuous. Giving way to impetuousness, they perform acts that are unrighteous.

The Neo-Babylonian inscriptions often attest the Chaldeans’ preoccupation with building projects. So dedicated were they to such matters that Nabopolassar compelled his own son to do hard physical labor in the building of Etemenanki, the temple tower of Babylon.409 Nebuchadnezzar inherited his father’s passion for building, and his inscriptions recount many incidents of building projects.410 On one occasion he proclaimed: “The building of the cities for gods and goddesses, with which the great lord, Marduk, had charged me, and to which he had incited my heart, reverently I did not cease until I finished their construction.”411 R. W. Rogers justly observes: “Nebuchadnezzar based his chief claim to posterity’s remembrance upon his great works of building all over Babylonia, but especially in Babylon itself.”412

Nevertheless, God denounces all of this splendor. He sees the atrocities by which the Chaldeans will aggrandize themselves in building lavishly endowed cities:

Babylon’s magnificent palaces, its costly temples, its grand processional street, aroused the awe and wonder of all visitors, and its mountain-high walls forced upon them the impossibility of conquering this city. Yet the Lord Jehovah was unimpressed by Babylon’s strength and grandeur. He saw only the blood of untold numbers of people who were slaughtered in ruthless warfare in order to obtain the means which made these buildings possible. He saw only the iniquity, the perversity, the crookedness of the builders.413

As invective turns to threat, Habakkuk records the Lord’s rhetorical question: Will not Yahweh Sabaoth see to it that all the toil* and exhausting work* spent on raising great monuments, edifices erected on bloodshed and adorned with the mortar of injustice, will come to nothing? The proud Babylonian cities will know the conqueror’s torch and be reduced to emptiness. All that effort will prove to be valueless; being rewarded in the end only by fire,* it will all be in vain. Not only the Chaldean cities but also the Neo-Babylonian empire itself was destined for extinction.

The city that is built on a foundation of iniquity and constructed at the expense of bloodshed cannot flourish; all will be for nought. Although the prophet refers to the construction of a city, his language is probably metaphorical for the construction of an empire.414

Jeremiah’s words reinforce those of Habakkuk:

The arrogant one will stumble and fall

      and no one will help her up;

I will kindle a fire in her towns

      that will consume all who are around her.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is what the LORD Almighty says:

“Babylon’s thick wall will be leveled

      and her high gates set on fire;

the peoples exhaust themselves for nothing,

      the nations’ labor is only fuel for the flames.”

(Jer. 50:32; 51:58, NIV)

Not only for her unbridled arrogance but also because God’s purposes include a universal experiencing of His own glory* must Babylon (and all such wicked people) be judged. The words of v. 14 are adapted from Isa. 11:9 (Num. 14:21). Isaiah’s prophecy looks ahead to the great messianic era in all its fullness and perfection; Habakkuk uses Isaiah’s prophecy to validate the pronouncement of the destruction of the Neo-Babylonian empire. Because the Chaldeans will glorify only themselves and the gods of human manufacture (whose temples they would adorn and maintain), they will scorn the living and true God and rob Him of His worship. If God is to be received fully on earth as in heaven, the earth must be filled “with the knowledge of [His] glory” (v. 14). Isaiah’s prophecy is thus personalized for the Chaldeans.

The prophetic words are a reminder that all other glory-seekers shall be silenced that God may have His rightful preeminence (cf. Isa. 48:11). Accordingly God’s glory must be accompanied by judgment (cf. Ezek. 39:4-24). Babylon’s judgment, then, must come (cf. Isa. 13:19), as well as that of all future “Babylons,” whom God will destroy (cf. Rev. 17-18) and over whom the Messiah will be victorious at His coming (Ezek. 38-39; Zech. 14:1-5; Rev. 19:11-21).

By God’s glory is meant His magnificence. In relation to man, the word is commonly used to depict His self-manifestation by which His inner excellence becomes visible. Further, glory lies behind all of His activities. As Erickson writes, “In the ultimate sense, the purpose of God’s plan is God’s glory. This is the highest of all values, and the one great motivating factor in all that God has chosen and done.”415 The term is also used of the intrinsic honor that is due Him (Pss. 66:2; 79:9) and that is proper and essential for man to give (Ps. 66:7-8; Jer. 13:16). Thus for the Chaldean to honor self rather than the one God of the universe was to fail to achieve the primary purpose of man (cf. Isa. 42:8; 48:11) and therefore to be culpable before God (cf. 1 Sam. 8:7; 10:17-19; 12:19).

The glory of the Lord that filled the Tabernacle at its inauguration (Ex. 40:34, 35) and the Temple at its dedication (1 Kings 8:10-12), that attended the announcement of Christ’s birth (Luke 2:9-14) and is reflected in the lives of believers who have been taken into union with Christ (2 Cor. 3:18) will one day be known and experienced by all (Isa. 59:19) who confess “that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11). In light of all of this, Erickson’s admonition is fitting:

If we have fully understood who and what God is, we will see him as the supreme being. We will make him the Lord, the one who is to be pleased, and whose will is to be done.... He is the almighty and loving Lord. He has created us, not we him, and we exist for his glory, not he for ours. We will stand before him in the last judgment, not he before us.416

Additional Notes

2:12עַוְלָה (“injustice,” “unrighteousness”): The root also appears as a masculine noun with little or nodifference in meaning. Commenting on the masculine noun, Girdlestone remarks: “The word ... is thought to designate the want of integrity and rectitude which is the accompaniment, if not the essential part, of wrong-doing.” He goes on to point out that this noun is also translated “iniquity” in “about thirty passages” where the stress is upon “a departure from that which is equal and right.”417

G. H. Livingston portrays something of the viciousness of these words by displaying the company they keep. At times they are parallel to words that are translated “afflict,” “bloodshed,” “deceitful,” “iniquity,” “lie,” “ruthlessness,” “transgression,” “treachery,” “violent acts,” and “wickedness,” while serving as antonyms to such nouns as “faithfulness,” “honesty,” “justice,” righteousness,” and “uprightness.”418 Indeed, both the masculine and feminine nouns are clearly distinguished from צֶדֶק and צְדָקָה (“righteous[ness]”; cf. Prov. 29:27). The words, then, depict a moral quality that stands in contrast to the righteous character of God and the standard of behavior expected of His children (cf. Deut. 25:16; 32:4; Zeph. 3:13).

2:13 †The interjection הִנֵּה (“lo/behold”; cf. KJV, NKJV, RSV) is better rendered here as an emphatic particle (NASB) or regarded as a flavoring particle and left untranslated (NIV). Luther, however, is probably on the right track in translating it as an inferential particle: “Wird’s nicht also ... geschehen?” (“Will it not therefore come to pass?”). So viewed, the question introduces a solution drawn from the antecedent observations. Because of the Chaldeans’ violent acts, will not God see to it that they (or any such nation) will exhaust themselves in vain?

צְבָאוֹח יהוה (“Yahweh Sabaoth”): This divine title is often rendered “LORD of Hosts.” It can also be translated “LORD Almighty.”419

The synonyms יָגַע and יָעַף (“toil” and “exhaust oneself” denote the effort and wearisome effects of hard work. The person so engaged is left with the fatigue that borders on being overcome with fainting. The Scriptures warn against the kind of labor that, like the Chaldeans, strives for wealth as an end in itself (Prov. 23:4).

The synonyms עַמִּים and לְאֻמִּים (“peoples” and “nations”) also commonly occur together as parallel terms. Whereas the former speaks of a group of people considered in and of itself (or of people in general), the latter emphasizes the group considered as a whole unit.420

2:14 יָם|| הָאָרֶץ (“the earth” || “sea”). M. Dahood proposes these two nouns as set parallel pairs whenever they occur, as here, in chiastic arrangement.421

כָּבוֹד (“glory”) refers to God’s self-manifestation in visible and active presence among men as opposed to God’s transcendence, for which יָשַׁב (“he dwelled”) was used. Both stand in distinction from Shekinah, the late technical term for God’s immanence.422

e. The fourth woe: The perverting Chaldean will be disgraced (2:15-17)

“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,

      pouring out* your wrath* and also* getting them drunk

      so as to look upon their nakedness!

16You will be filled with shame* rather than glory.

      Now, you drink and expose yourself!

The cup* of the LORD’s right hand will come around to you,

      and utter disgrace* will cover your glory.

17For the violence you will do to Lebanon will overwhelm you,

      and your destruction of animals will terrify (you)* because of the shedding of human blood

      and the violence against lands, cities, and all who inhabit them.”

Exegesis and Exposition

The tie between the third and fourth woes is not as pronounced as between the first and second or the second and third. However, they do have in common a reference to a city (or town, vv. 12, 17). In reviewing the first four woes, an alternating pattern of condemnation may be observed: the first and third woes deal primarily with overt acts, whereas the second and fourth mention motives. The first and fourth woes have in common the phrase “because of the shedding of human blood and the violence against lands, cities, and all who inhabit them” (vv. 8, 17).

The fourth woe begins with an invective formed with a strong metaphor. The Chaldean is a man who gives his neighbor (strong) drink in seeming hospitality. The metaphor quickly gives way to allegory. The apparently innocent cup contains a draught of wrath, for it is designed to get its partaker drunk. Drunkenness is not alone the motive of the untrustworthy friend. Having got his neighbor drunk, he denudes him.

As invective turns to threat (v. 16) the allegory depicts the giver of the drink as one who is forced to imbibe of his own drink and suffer the disgrace of exposure. Several familiar biblical motifs and expressions are contained in vv. 15-16. The cup as a motif of judgment is well attested elsewhere (e.g., Pss. 11:6; 75:8 [HB 75:9]; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15-28; 49:12; Ezek. 23:31-34). Particularly enlightening for the understanding of Habakkuk’s fourth woe is Jeremiah’s use of the cup to portray God’s relation with Babylon (Jer. 51:6-8). For Jeremiah, Babylon is God’s cup, a golden cup (cf. Daniel’s head of gold, Dan. 2:36-38), which in God’s hand had passed on His judgment to the nations. Those who drink of that cup lose all sense of perspective and become oblivious to the danger they are in. But Babylon will become a broken cup, for she will be smashed and never repaired.

Habakkuk makes the same point, although the image is slightly different. The Chaldean will be God’s cup of judgment (cf. 1:5-11), but rather than being conscious of his privileged responsibility, the Chaldean will use his position to take advantage of others and enslave them politically and economically.

The image of shame is heightened by the double figure of drunkenness and nakedness (cf. Gen. 9:21-23). The first is condemned both by our Lord (Luke 21:34) and elsewhere in the Scriptures (e.g., Eph. 5:18). Nakedness is likened to a shameful thing (cf. Gen. 2:25 with 3:7), and he who was stripped of clothing felt degraded (2 Sam. 10:4; Ezek. 16:39; 23:29). Both figures are used elsewhere to symbolize divine judgment (Nah. 3:5, 11). All three symbols occur together in Lam. 4:21 where Jeremiah portrays the Israelites’ taunt of Edom. That nation, which had so often taken advantage of Israel’s misfortune, will be given the cup of judgment, become drunk, and be stripped naked.

Habakkuk thus points out that the Chaldean will pour out a cup of wrath but in turn will drink it himself. Indeed, he will drink it more deeply. The Chaldean, whose appetite was as unsatisfied as death and the grave (cf. 2:5), will now be satiated. He will have the honor of being God’s “cup” of judgment. However, he will seek his own honor and wealth, using his selfishly accumulated booty to build grandiose structures and formidable cities. Accordingly he will now know the shame* he has brought on others. Therefore, he is given a sarcastic command: “Go on! Drink! ... and expose yourself!” The last imperative is graphic. It means literally “show yourself as uncircumcised.” Not even in the marks of his body could the Chaldean claim covenant relationship with Yahweh. Naked and without grounds for leniency, the Chaldean faced certain doom. As Freeman observes, “To be uncircumcised marked one as a Gentile or heathen and outside God’s covenant; here it expresses God’s utter contempt for Judah’s oppressors and indicates the climax of their coming degradation.”423

The cup* of judgment would now come around to the Chaldean, and his glory would be turned into disgrace.* Habakkuk has so placed this word in the development of his pronouncement that it balances the thought with which the verse began. Filled to overflowing with shame, the Chaldean’s glory will be turned to utter disgrace.

The reason for which the Chaldean must drink the cup follows in v. 17. His will be a wanton disregard of the value of the natural world, the animal kingdom, and civilized humanity. Once more the subject of violence surfaces. Habakkuk had complained about the violence all about him (1:2-3), and God had warned him that still greater violence lay ahead (1:9). God had already laid the charge of violence against the Chaldeans (2:8); now he reiterates it with yet another instance of the Chaldeans’ ruthless activity.

By the violence done to Lebanon some understand a figurative reference to Israel’s own land. Thus Armerding remarks: “Lebanon” is used as a symbol of Israel (2 Kings 14:9; cf. Jer. 22:6, 23) and more specifically of Israel as a victim of Babylonian aggression (Ezek. 17:3).”424 But a literal interpretation is not impossible. The Mesopotamian kings had boasted of their exploitation of the forests of Lebanon since the earliest days.425 Sennacherib tells of dragging cedars from there,426 as does Nebuchadnezzar.427 Though uncertainty exists as to the scope of the reference, Lebanon referring more commonly to a region rather than to its cedars, the enumeration of various categories of living things here argues for a veiled reference to the cedars of Lebanon (cf. Judg. 9:15; Isa. 2:13). As such they symbolized the most magnificent and best-known representation of the area’s natural world (much as the redwoods do for California). They are personified here as rejoicing over Babylon’s demise (cf. Isa. 14:8).

The scene shifts to the animal kingdom. It, too, will suffer violence at the hands of the Chaldeans. The natural and animal worlds are often made unwilling participants in man’s sin and greed (cf. Joel 1:19-20; Rom. 8:22). It is a crime that has increasingly plagued human society. Such thoughtless conduct by the Chaldeans indicates again their godless arrogance and selfish presumption for which punishment must come. As Craigie observes, “The prophet indicates that the wanton use of violence against both the human world and the world of nature will return to haunt the perpetrators.”428

The noun שֹׁד ( sŒo„d) is used of great devastation or destruction. It occurs at times with שֶׁבֶר ( sŒeber, “breaking/shattering”; Isa. 51:19; 60:18; Jer. 48:35), such as in depicting the work of evil men (Isa. 59:7). Sóo„d is also parallel to עָמָל ( àa„ma„l, “trouble”) used of the dangers in associating with the wicked (Prov. 24:2). As is the case here, sŒo„d parallels ָָחמָס ( h£a„ma„s, “violence,”) in Ezek. 45:9; Amos 3:10. Jeremiah would later echo Habakkuk’s complaint with regard to the social injustice in his country (Jer. 6:7; 20:8). Habakkuk is thus assured that if the agent of God’s judgment perpetrates the same wickedness he has been sent to punish, he too must receive the just judgment of God.

The fourth woe is closed with a reiteration of the charge made against the Chaldean in the first. He will have a callous disregard even for the sanctity of human life. In his quest for power he will destroy everything that stands in his way, be it lands, cities, or those who dwell in them. For this the Neo-Babylonian empire would come to know what every divinely employed agent must learn: When carrying out God’s will is twisted to selfish advantage, the executor of divine justice must himself be judged (cf. 2 Kings 10:28-31 with Hos. 1:4).429

Additional Notes

2:15 †Three main suggestions have been given for the form חֲמָתְךָ (“your wrath”). (1) The translation just given (cf. RSV) takes the noun as ֵֵחמָה (“[burning] anger,” “rage,” from יַַָחם, “be hot”). (2) Some who follow this understanding of the origin of the noun suggest that it should be translated “venom” (NASB) or “poison” (NJB) as in Deut. 32:24; Job 6:4; Ps. 140:4. (3) Others believe that the word intended is ֵֵחמֶת (“wineskin,” NIV; cf. KJV, NKJV).430 In view of the association of drinking, wrath, and cup in the OT (e.g., Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15), the first alternative appears to be the best here. Moreover, such a view harmonizes well with a similar picture of Babylon’s judgment in Jer. 51:7-8.

The 2d masc. sing. suffix has also proved troublesome. Some translations change it to a 3d masc. sing. to agree with the subject in the parallel line (e.g., 1QpHab, Vg, NJB, RSV) or add a 3d masc. sing. pronoun to the sentence (e.g., NKJV: “pressing him to your bottle”; cf. KJV) or omit the suffix altogether (LXX, Tg. Neb., NIV). From a critical standpoint the difficulty of reading favors the MT.431 Moreover, such cases of enallage are common enough in the OT.432

†The problem concerning ֲֲחמָתְךָ is complicated further by controversy over the previous מְסַפֵּחַ. Some take the word to be from the root סָפַח (“join,” “attach to”; cf. Ethiopic saˆfh£a, “become broad/wide”433), deciding for a meaning “mix in” (NASB) or “press/put to” (NKJV, KJV). Others favor the idea “pour out” (NIV, NJB), סָפַח being compared with the Arabic safah£a (“pour out”).434 Still a third proposal is to emend the word to מִסַּף (“from/of the cup/bowl,” KB-3, RSV).435 Despite the uncertainty, I have followed Armerding, the NIV, and the NJB in choosing the second alternative because of the common OT usage of wrath being poured out (e.g., 2 Chron. 12:7; 34:21; Ps. 79:6; Jer. 7:20; 42:18; Ezek. 7:8; 9:8).436

†Still another perplexity arises in the next phrase, וְאַף שַׁכֵּר (“and also getting him drunk”). The conjunctive particle has been rendered as “even” (NASB), “till” (NIV), or “until” (NJB). Armerding offers the novel suggestion that the phrase “can be interpreted as a parallel noun in the accusative case, meaning ‘and (with) anger.’“437 This idea has the advantage of scriptural precedent in that both terms in this verse ( ֵֵחמָה and אַף) would then be words for anger that are said to be poured out (cf. Jer. 10:25; Lam. 4:11). The two even occur together at times (e.g., Jer. 7:20). Moreover, both appear together in a context of God’s judgment that also uses the figure of getting the nations drunk (Isa. 63:1-6).438

A variation in Armerding’s position would be to view the proposed noun “anger” as a compound accusative with deletion transformation of the pronominal suffix: thus “pouring out your wrath and anger.” Although such a suggestion would violate the normal rules of Hebrew syntax,439 some instances of the use of one pronoun with two connected nouns are attested in the OT (e.g., Ex. 15:2; 2 Sam. 23:5), and the resultant product of such a procedure would be similar to the omission of a pronominal suffix in parallel structure.440

However attractive Armerding’s proposal or its variation might seem, its cumbersomeness and the rarity of the variant consideration (even the cited examples are debated), as well as the fact that Habakkuk has already used וְאַף at the beginning of this section (2:5), make the suggestion of translating אַף as “anger” unlikely. Habakkuk probably intends the particle to introduce an additional thought joined to what precedes for special emphasis.

The following infinitive absolute שַׁכֵּר likely is used adverbially to describe the manner, means, degree, or attendant circumstance whereby the outpoured wrath is to be accomplished.441 The thought of the verse thus far may therefore be paraphrased: “Woe to him who gives his neighbor drink, pouring out your wrath and also (i.e., by, while) getting him drunk.” The objective “him” is to be supplied from the preceding line.442 As for מְעוֹרֵיהֶם (“their nakedness”), the pronominal suffix is masc. pl. in agreement with the collective sense in the antecedent “his neighbor(s).”

2:16 קָלוֹן (“shame,” from קָלָה, “be light”), קִיקָלוֹן (“[utter] disgrace,” from קָלַל,”be slight”; cf. Akkadian qala„lu, “be light,” qullulu, “despised”) and כוֹס (“cup”) all occur in combination in the Ugaritic literature.443 By drawing upon well-known Canaanite precedents in making his point, Habakkuk again displays his literary skill. He further demonstrates that ability by putting the verse in chiastic structure. Laetsch suggests that קִיקָלוֹן is derived from the verb ִִקיא (“spit,” vomit”) here used of shameful vomiting. Thus he remarks, “Dead drunk, the proud Chaldean shall lie naked on the floor in his own vomit, an object of horror and ridicule for all the world.”444

In the Scriptures the cup is often used as a figure of God’s dealings with men. It can be a symbol of His blessing (Pss. 16:5; 23:5; 116:13) or of judgment (Pss. 11:6; 75:8 [HB 75:9]; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15-17; 49:12; 51:7; Ezek. 23:31-34; Rev. 14:10; 16:19). The motif is also applied to Christ’s finished work in drinking the cup of divine wrath against sin so that all people may be saved, as well as being utilized of the cup of eternal felicity that the heavenly host provided (Matt. 20:22-23; Mark 10:38; 14:36; Luke 22:42; John 18:11; cf. Matt. 26:27-29).

The right hand is a motif indicating honor (Gen. 48:13-14; Pss. 16:11; 110:1) or definiteness and strength of activity (Ex. 15:6; Ps. 98:1; Isa. 41:10). Its presence here adds vigor and emphasis to the threatened judgment of the Chaldeans (cf. Isa. 48:13-14).445

2:17יְתִיתַן (“will terrify”) is anomalous but probably is a remnant of an old energic form of חָתַת.446 I have followed the lead of the NIV (cf. NJB, RSV) in viewing the terror as coming upon the Chaldeans, as the parallel with the previous line appears to demand, rather than seeing the terror as being that which the Chaldeans perpetrated against the animal kingdom (cf. NASB, KJV, NKJV).

The word בְּהֵמָה (“animal”) is used of cattle in general,447 here representing the whole animal kingdom much as (the cedars of) Lebanon represents the natural world בְּהֵמָה was also doubtless employed because of its use in contexts that contrast animal and human behavior (cf. Ps. 73:22) and because it is frequently parallel to אָדָם (“man[kind]”; cf. Gen. 2:18-20; Ps. 49: 12, 20 [HB 49:13, 21]), a combination that appears here.

f. The fifth woe: The polytheistic Chaldean will be deserted by his idols (2:18-20)

“Of what value* is an idol.

      that* its creator has fashioned it,

(or) an image, a teacher of falsehood*,

      that* its creator* trusts it,

      making mute idols?

19Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Arise!’

      or to silent stone, ‘Wake up!’

Shall it give instruction*?

      Look, it is covered with gold and silver.

      yet there is no breath in it.

20But Yahweh is in His holy Temple;

      let all the earth be silent before Him.”

Exegesis and Exposition

In drawing the woe oracles to a close, Habakkuk deliberately changes the order he has previously employed by beginning with the reason for the threatened judgment (v. 18). Then, after giving invective (v. 19a) and threat (v. 19b), he returns climactically to a further consideration of the cause for the woe by expressing the chief lesson to be learned from the whole discussion (v. 20). Verse 20 forms an inclusio with v. 4 that reveals the underlying thesis and its implication for the entire section: The Lord is a just and holy God who deals righteously with all people and is actively present in the flow of earth’s history; therefore, He is to be acknowledged as God by all. That thesis is not only the answer to Habakkuk’s second perplexity but also serves as the basis for the Chaldean’s judgment.1448

The religious orientation of the Chaldean is now examined and shown to be without foundation. His idolatrous polytheism is seen to be worthless. The unit begins with a rhetorical question concerning the Chaldean’s idols. What profit is there? The answer: “None!” That this is so is obvious from several factors. (1) His idols are man-made and therefore can only be a source of false teaching. Whatever instruction one can glean from their worship is error. (2) Crafted by the hand of man, idols are silent creations that can never speak. The phrase אִלְּמִים אֱלִילִים ( áeŒlîlîm áille†mîm), “mute idols,” is a grotesque parody of אֱלֹהִים/ אֵל ( áe„l/áe†lo„hîm), the common words for the powerful and true God of revelation.449 (3) Since idols are only man’s creation, to put one’s trust in them is to trust one’s own creation rather than the Creator.

Before going on to give the most crucial reason for the doom of the polytheistic Chaldean, Habakkuk delivers an invective and a threat (v. 19). Having pointed out the inability of worthless man-made idols to speak, Habakkuk pronounces the Lord’s woe against the devotees of idol worship. How could anyone tell a carved wooden image to arise or instruct a god fashioned of stone to awaken? Whether the reference is to general petitions or requests for information made to these idols or is intended to reflect ceremonies waking the gods practiced in some ancient cultures, the question remains: How can lifeless, speechless products of the artisans’ hands give instruction? Any suggestion that such is possible is nonsense, for the fact remains that, however one may clothe them or cover them with gold and silver, the idols are not alive. The Hebrew text is emphatic: “Any breath does not exist within it!” The effect of the MT is graphically rendered by the NJB: “Look, he is encased in gold and silver,—but not a breath of life inside it!”

The condemnation of idolatry here is in harmony with that found in the other OT prophets (cf. Isa. 44:9-20; Jer. 5:7; 44:1-8; Hos. 8:4). The judgment of Babylon and its gods announced previously by Isaiah (Isa. 21:9) is repeated by Jeremiah (Jer. 50:2; 51:47-48, 52-53).

The fifth woe ends with a pronouncement that displays the vast difference between Israel’s God and the gods of Babylon. Unlike those gods, who have neither life nor word of guidance for their followers (cf. Isa. 44:9-11), Yahweh the Lord of all the earth (v. 14) is a living God. He is in His holy Temple* and available to all who fear Him (cf. Deut. 4:1-40; Ps. 91:14-16). He is ever present, superintending all that comes to pass (cf. Isa. 44:6-8, 24-28). The gods of Babylon (and their devotees) can only remain silent before Him.

The invective and threat against Babylon (v. 19) thus have more than sufficient cause. Since the Chaldeans worshiped gods of their own creation (v. 18) rather than the Creator, controller, and consummator of history, their condemnation is certain. This is their most besetting sin. Because the Chaldeans worshiped self and their own selfish artifices, they will plot against the peoples around them. Their feigned friendship with them will only be a pretext to indulge their own perverted lusts. Further, they will go on to plunder the nations so that lands, cities, and their inhabitants will feel the crush of their violent oppression. The verdict is final. Habakkuk can be assured that the Chaldeans will be judged, for they will violate the standards of God (cf. vv. 4-5).

Verse 20 also has another application. Because the idolatry that leads to the neglect and rejection of God is a universal problem, all the earth is to be silent before the living God. None is to assert his independence from God but rather should worship Him in humble submission (Jer. 10:1-10), letting Him be God of the whole life (Pss. 63:1-4 [HB 63:2-5]; 73:23-28).

The universal applicability of v. 20 argues for two further considerations: (1) v. 20 is designed both to conclude the fifth woe and to bring to culmination all of the woes; (2) v. 20 is also strategically placed so as to counterbalance the thought of v. 4. There is also here a personal application for Habakkuk. God’s prophet had expressed deep anxiety first over God’s seeming indifference to Judah’s sin (1:2-4) and then over God’s method of dealing with it (1:12-2:1). He needed to learn that in the operation of divine government God proceeds in accordance with definite standards (2:4). Once he had learned that and understood the applicability of God’s principles of governance to the Chaldean (2:5-19), he needed a fresh, personal resignation to the will of God (2:20). Like Job (Job 42:1-6), he needed to see God not only for what He does and gives but also for who He is. He needed to let Him be God of his whole life.

The challenge to Habakkuk is also for all people in all ages. Craigie’s words of warning are well taken:

Idolatry is essentially the worship of that which we make, rather than of our Maker. And that which we make may be found in possessions, a home, a career, an ambition, a family, or a multitude of other people or things. We “worship” them when they become the focal point of our lives, that for which we live. And as the goal and centre of human existence, they are as foolish as any wooden idol or metal image. But what we can perceive so clearly in the words of a prophet from centuries long passed, we cannot always see so clearly in our immediate life and existence. As we reflect on Habakkuk’s words, we should reflect also on the nature and direction of our own lives.450

Craigie’s admonition becomes doubly sobering for today’s believer when he realizes that his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). As such it belongs to God and ought not to be profaned in thought or deed. Because the Holy Spirit indwells the believer (1 Cor. 3:16), his life should reflect that one who alone is God (2 Cor. 6:16-18) as he lives in anticipation of that glorious day when “the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them” (Rev. 21:3).

Additional Notes

2:18 †Although הוֹעִיל (“profit,” “value”) may be construed as a causative verb, and hence standing after the preceding מָה (“what”) may be translated “What profits an idol?” (cf. Keil), the rendering adopted here follows most English translations in viewing “idol” as the subject and הוֹעִיל as inwardly transitive.451

פֶּסֶל is one of several basic words for “idol” in the OT. It is usually taken to mean “carved image,” while the following מַסֵּכָה (“image”) is customarily understood to mean “cast image.”452 Although one may not always be able to make such a distinction, the two words perhaps serve here as representative examples of idols however they are made.453

Still a third term for idol ( אֱלִילִים) occurs here. This word lays stress on its value, for it is denounced as an empty or worthless thing. H. Preuss suggests that the word

was created as a disparaging pun on and as a diminutive of ‘el or ‘elohim (Ps. 97:7) (“little god, godling”). This helped to bring about a conscious antithesis between áelil and áel, “the Strong One.” Furthermore, it is likely that the noun áelil is intentionally reminiscent of the adj. ‘elil, “weak, insignificant, worthless,” which we also encounter in contexts where the speaker uses scornful words (Job 13:4; Jer. 14:14; cf. Zec. 11:17; also Sir. 11:3).454

The alliteration with the following אִלְּמִים ( áilleŒmîm), “mute,” is effective but difficult to render in English in a way that retains both its meaning and the intended audible effect. Perhaps something like “voiceless, valueless” or “mute, meretricious things” would approximate the writer’s intentions.

שָׁקֶר וּמוֹרֶה (“a teacher of lies”): In addition to its normal function as a coordinator, the conjunction can be understood epexegetically, hence left untranslated (NASB) or treated as introducing a logically subordinate clause (= “that,” NIV). I have followed the NASB.

For the MT מוֹרֶה 1QpHab reads מרי, which Vermes understands to be a construct of מְרִיא (“fatling”).455 The Qumran form could also be understood as מְרִי (“rebellion”).

כִּי (“that”): Both cases of this particle have been variously translated, the NIV rendering both causally, the NASB and RSV rendering the first temporally and the second causally. The translation here follows the NJB, KJV, NKJV and several commentators (e.g., Hayes, Keil, Laetsch) in taking both particles as introducing result clauses. So construed, the question gets to the heart of the problem: “What possible profit can there be in any form of idol so that a craftsman would not only make a mute idol in the first place but then cap his foolishness by trusting in his own creation?”

2:19 דּוּמָם (“silent”) emphasizes the idol’s ineffectiveness with regard to speech (it is noiseless), whereas the synonym אִלֵּם (“mute”) underscores its inability to speak.456

יוֹרֶה הוּא (“shall it give instruction?”): יוֹרֶה is properly a verb, although some have treated it as a nominal form (e.g., NASB, NJB). The accents of the MT demand that the phrase be treated as separate from what precedes (cf. KJV). Although some have regarded it as a statement (NJB, NKJV), it is usually understood as a question. Others have omitted it as a gloss (e.g., NEB). The paronomasia with מוֹרֶה is obvious.

2:20 הַס (“keep silent”): The word is an onomatopoeic interjection with a force much like the English “hush!” (cf. Zeph. 1:7).

By הֵיכָל (“temple”) is probably meant not only the Temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron. 5:13-14; 7:1-3) but also God’s heavenly sanctuary (Ps. 11:4; Isa. 6:1-5; Mic. 1:2; cf. Rev. 4:2-11) from which, though it cannot contain Him (1 Kings 8:27), He hears and answers the prayers of those who know Him and seek Him (1 Kings 8:28-30; Ps. 73:17).

Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4

The place of Habakkuk 2:4 in the history of biblical interpretation can hardly be overestimated. Its place in Jewish thinking is well represented by Rabbi Simlai:

That it came to be of special importance for some Jews is indicated by bMakk. 23b, which tells us that Rabbi Simlai (about A.D. 250) had asserted that the 613 commandments received by Moses had been summed up by David in eleven commandments (Ps 15), by Isaiah in six (Isa 33.15f), by Micah in three (Mic 6.8), by Isaiah again in two (Isa 56.1), and finally by Amos in one (Amos 5.4), but that Rabbi Nachman ben Isaac (about A.D. 350) had substituted Hab 2.4b for Amos 5.4 as the summary in one commandment.457

Its threefold citation in the NT (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38) attests to its basic importance to the Christian revelation. Boice rightly remarks:

This is a great text. It could even be called the great text of the Bible. To understand it is to understand the Christian gospel and the Christian life. It is so important that it is picked up by the New Testament writers, twice by Paul (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11) and once by the author of the Book of Hebrews (Heb. 10:38).458

The study of this text in Paul’s expression of it in Rom. 1:17 had a remarkable impact on Martin Luther:

There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith.... Here I felt I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally new face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.459

Indeed, C. L. Feinberg may not be too far wrong in dubbing this text the “watchword of Christianity,” the key to Habakkuk, and “the central theme of all the Scriptures.”460

Its Context

It is the nature of the case for crucial texts to receive great critical attention. Such is true here as well, the discussion of this verse or its NT citations in commentaries, theologies, and special studies being voluminous. Several problems are relevant to the understanding of the text, the most immediate being its relation to its context. Some (e.g., Eissfeldt; cf. BHS, NJB) suggest that it is closely tied to what precedes (vv. 2-3), vv. 2-4 thus forming a distinct pericope. Others (e.g., Hummel; cf. NKJV) extend this pericope backward to v. 1, while still others also include v. 5 (e.g., Humbert, R. Smith; cf. RSV). Some view Hab. 2:4 as chiefly introductory to all that follows (e.g., D. A. Koch), whereas others find the closest relationship between vv. 4 and 5 (e.g., Armerding, Keil, Laetsch; cf. NASB, NIV).

Representative of those who view Hab. 2:4 with the preceding verses is J. G. Janzen.461 He finds the clue to his position in the word יָפֵהַ ( ya„pe„ah£, v. 3), which he takes not as a verb from פּוּחַ ( pu‚ah£, “breathe/blow”) but, building on studies by Dahood and Loewenstamm462 and considering the evidence of Prov. 6:19; 12:17; 14:5, 25; 19:5, 9, views it as a noun and translates v. 3 “For the vision is a witness to a rendezvous, a testifier to the end—it does not lie.”463 Key to Janzen’s interpretation is the presence in Hab. 2:3-4 of several key terms in the six texts in Proverbs:

For in view of the collocation of key terms ( àe„d, ya„pîah, kizze„b, áe†muna‚/ áe†met) around the central concern in the six proverbs and elsewhere, only by resisting the obvious can we avoid the conclusion that the word áe†muna‚ in Hab 2:4b joins the three terms used earlier, àe„d, ya„pe„ah£ and kizze„b, to form the same four-term collocation around the same concern. But this means, unambiguously, that 2:4b refers not to the faithfulness (let alone the faith) of the s£addîq, but to the reliability of the vision.464

His conclusion therefore is that in vv. 2-4

Yahweh is portrayed as vouching for the vision as a reliable witness and testifier which does not lie. But as the guarantor of the credentials of the vision as witness, Yahweh implicates himself fatefully in its reliability. This is no lying vision inspired by a lying spirit. What has been given to the prophet has not been given to deceive or to (mis)lead into destruction. This vision is reliable, such that the righteous shall live by it.465

Although Janzen’s observations are helpful, only one of the key terms of Hab. 2:4 is actually used in these citations in Proverbs ( אֱמוּנָה in Prov. 12:17, where it appears with צֶרֶק [ s£edeq, “truth”] from the same word group as the צַדִּיק [ s£addîq, “righteous one”] of Hab. 2:4). Further, Janzen’s three key terms of v. 3 (one of which is achieved by repointing עוֹד [ ào‚d, “yet”] to עֵד [ àe„d, “witness/testifier”]) never occur with אֳמוּנָה (although ֱֹאמוּנִים עֵד [“a faithful witness”] occurs in Prov. 14:5 parallel to כְּזָבִים יָפִיחַ [ ya„pîah£ keŒza„bîm, “a false witness”]). Thus in the six passages in Proverbs all four terms necessary to Janzen’s theory occur in some form only once. Moreover, the אֱמוּנָה of Hab. 2:4 does not modify any of the three terms of v. 3 as in Prov. 12:17; 14:5, nor does it necessarily bear the same nuance as in the contexts in Proverbs.

Therefore, while Janzen’s suggestions may help yield a satisfactory understanding of vv. 2-3, I do not believe he has demonstrated so necessary a relationship between vv. 2-3 and v. 4 that one must understand all four terms involved in the same way as his proposed understanding of the Proverbs passages. Indeed, the אֱמוּנָה of v. 4 seems tied only to its poetic line and the one preceding it, and that in a way different from the contexts in Proverbs.

Its appearance in v. 4 so close to the other three terms with which it is associated in Proverbs may simply be intended to suggest a literary correspondence between Hab. 2:2-3 and 2:4. Just as God’s vision testifies truthfully (=faithfully) to God’s appointed end, so a righteous man lives his life in faith(fulness). Accordingly, even accepting Janzen’s repointing of עוֹד to עֵד and his understanding of יָפֵחַ, one may say no more than that the passages in Proverbs may provide a literary and lexical environment for understanding the vision as a testifier and true witness to God’s purposes (vv. 2-3) and possibly even a literary correspondence between vv. 2-3 and v. 4. No necessary syntactical or lexical relationship between vv. 2-3 and v. 4 can be proved. Though this does not necessarily invalidate the view that Hab. 2:4 is most closely tied to what precedes, since that view has no compelling evidence in its favor it would seem better to follow the more traditional position that relates v. 4 to what follows.

Moreover, there is much to commend a close tie of Hab. 2:4 to what comes after it: (1) The opening הִנֵּה often used as a poetic introductory formula argues for the initiation of a new thought.466 (2) None of the key terms of v. 4 can be proved to be directly related to vv. 2-3, whereas the word נֶפֶשׁ is crucial to the application of v. 4 to the Chaldean in what follows (cf. vv. 5, 10). (3) While it might be suggested that v. 4 is a hinge verse467 that completes the thought of vv. 2-3 and carries the discussion on to the consideration of the Chaldean in vv. 5-20, the fact that the principles enumerated in v. 4 are basic to the description of the demise of the Chaldean argues for a closer relation of v. 4 to what follows. (4) כִּי אַף ( áa p kî) in v. 5 is designed to pick up the thought of a preceding sentence and carry it forward as an argumentum a fortiori: “yea, the more so,” “furthermore.” BDB notes that in such cases the preceding sentence is often indicated by. הִנֵּה, as is the case here in Hab. 2:4. So understood it would appear that God’s revelation of the principles of human behavior is the starting point for the consideration of the Chaldeans. If it is true that the wicked go on in their selfish presumption and if real life exists only with the righteous who conduct themselves faithfully before God (v. 4), the Chaldean is included in the class of the wicked whose unrighteous desires are catalogued in v. 5.

Accordingly v. 4 is best taken with what follows. Though it forms the essence of the divine revelation that is to be heralded to all, it is woven into the structure of v. 5, both verses thus serving as the basis for the woes that follow.

The First Line

Verse 4 confronts the reader with a myriad of grammatical and lexical difficulties.468 עֻפְּלָה ( àuppe†la‚) has challenged the best efforts of exegetes. Most commonly the word has been related to the root עָפַל ( àa„pal, “swell”) and hence as a pual participle is variously translated “puffed up” (NIV; so also La Sainte Bible, “enflée”; cf. La Sacra Biblia, gonfia” [conceited]), “proud” (NASB), “arrogant” (BDB), or “stiff-necked/stubborn” (Die Heilege Schrift, “halsstarrig”).

Some, citing the difficulty of the masculine singular suffixes נַפְשׁוֹ and בּוֹ, suggest an emendation to a masculine substantive such as עֻפָּל or עַפָּל (BHS) or redivide the consonants into עַף (from עוף, “fly [away],” i.e., “perish”) and לֹה, or find a relation with the Arabic gafala (“be heedless”) and translate the word “reckless” (NEB).469 Others, feeling the need for a verb to balance יִחְיֶה in the parallel line, invert the consonants or emend the word to a form of (1) the verb עָלַף ( àa„lap, “cover”) translating “become weak” (Humbert), “succumb” (NJB), “draw back” (LXX), or “fail” (RSV) or (2) the verb פָּעַל ( pa„àal, “do/make”) with the idea of earning punishment (Rudolph).

Still others abandon the consonants of the MT and suggest a word from another root such as עַוָּל ( àawwa„l, “unjust,” hence “the wicked” [Pesh., Tg. Neb.]) or עָאֵל ( àa„s£e„l, “be sluggish,” hence “slothful” [Aquila, Janzen]), while some simply translate ad sensum “unbelievable” (Vg) or “faithless.”470

The problem is difficult, and some abandon any hope of solving it.471 It seems, however, that one should follow the reading of the MT due both to the criteria of textual criticism (prefer the more difficult reading472 and consider the evidence of 1QpHab, which follows the MT: עופלה) and to the fact that the traditional text, though obscure, can be explained. Provisionally, then, the MT can be translated “arrogant” or the like.

Nevertheless, at least two other problems arise: (1) As mentioned above, the masculine singular suffixes on נַפְשׁוֹ and בּוֹ call for an appropriate singular antecedent; (2) נֶפֶשׁ may need to be translated in some way other than “soul.”473

Taking these problems in inverse order, however broad might be the range of meanings for נֶפֶשׁ,474 many passages are best understood in their traditional sense as the seat of moral or religious agency (i.e., the soul; e.g., Ex. 23:9; Isa. 26:8-9).475 Therefore, the translation “soul” cannot be dismissed categorically. At this point, however, a couple of controlling factors need to be observed. נֶפֶשׁ does not elsewhere476 occur with the root ישׁר, which is usually associated in a moral sense with לֵבָב/ לֵב ( le„b/le„ba„b, “heart”; e.g., 2 Kings 10:15; 2 Chron. 29:34; Pss. 7:10 [HB 7:11]; 32:11; 94:15 [HB 94:16]; 97:11). Accordingly, the following בּוֹ (“in him”) rather than נַפְשׁוֹ is to be understood with לֹא יָשְׁרָה (“not upright”), as most expositors suggest. Also, the use of נֶפֶשׁ in v. 5 in the sense of “appetite” or “desire” (cf. NJB, NASB) probably argues for a similar understanding in v. 4 (cf. NIV). Thus the translation of נֶפֶשׁ as “soul” in v. 4 (KJV, NASB, RSV) is probably incorrect.

Turning to the first problem, one solution to the difficulty with the masculine suffixes is to propose that the Chaldean, the subject of vv. 6-20, is to be assumed here (so Keil). This leaves the predicate adjective יָשְׁרָה to agree with נֶפֶשׁ and yields a translation something like “behold. puffed up, his soul is not straight within him.”477 Such a procedure gives tolerable sense and takes account of the apparent incongruity between the feminine עֻפְּלָה and the following masculine suffixes.

Additional possibilities include (1) viewing עֻפְּלָה as composed of a masculine noun of the qut£t£a„l type (“arrogance and a masculine singular suffix -o„h (rather than -o‚),478 here functioning as the antecedent of pronominal suffixes in a relative clause 479—”Behold his arrogance whose desire is not upright in him” (i.e., “Behold the arrogance of him in whom his desire is not upright”)—and (2) understanding עֻפְּלָה as a masculine noun with a masculine singular suffix and viewing all of the suffixes as anticipatory of the Chaldeans of the following discussion: “Behold his (the Chaldean’s) arrogance; his desire is not upright in him.”

Any of these explanations can yield a translation compatible with the parameters of the language and faithful to the MT. Keil’s translation has the advantage of taking the text as it stands, but he must supply the antecedent for the suffixes from the demands of the context. He also fails to come to grips satisfactorily with the problem of נֶפֶשׁ although this difficulty could possibly be solved by translating the word as “desire.” The second additional view deals with נֶפֶשׁ and takes advantage of the Masoretic accents but, like Keil’s proposal, faces the problem of finding a satisfactory antecedent for the suffixes. It also depends on a repointing of עֻפְּלָה. The first additional suggestion has the advantage of accounting for all the linguistic problems but at the expense of repointing the consonants of the MT.

The solution tentatively proposed here notes the seeming incongruity between the feminine substantive and the following masculine suffixes by understanding עֻפְּלָה as a predicate adjective before a relative clause with omitted particle: “Arrogant is the one whose desires are not upright” (lit. “An arrogance is he whose desire is not upright in him”). Thus construed the syntax is much like that of Isa. 41:24, בָּכֶם יִבְחַר תּוֹעֵבָה ( to‚àe„ba‚ yibh£ar ba„kem), which the NIV accurately translate, “He chooses you’ is detestable.”480 On the whole this seems the easiest solution and has OT literary precedent. Whatever the final solution to the difficulties in the first line, the MT can be translated as it stands, making it hasty to conclude that the text can “give no sense.”481

The Second Line

The chief points of contention in the second line of Hab. 2:4 revolve around (1) the precise meaning of עַדִּיק ( s£addîq, “righteous/just”) and (2) the meaning and syntactical relationship of the following בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ ( beá e†mu‚na„to‚, “by his faith[fulness]).” Complicating both problems is the reading of the line in the LXX and its subsequent use by the NT writers.

As for the first problem, words derived from עדק have varied meanings. The root itself appears to mean “be straight” and is largely employed in situations that denote conformity to a standard (i.e., straightness).482 Thus the root and its word group are often used of God’s activities and man’s relation to God. In accordance with His righteous scrutiny God takes note of all people in their activities (Amos 5:4-7, 14; 6:12) and punishes the sin of His own (Dan. 9:14) and of all people (Ps. 9:8 [HB 9:9]). By His righteous judgment He vindicates His own (Judg. 5:11; Isa. 54:17; Mic. 7:9) and brings them salvation/deliverance (Isa. 45:21; 46:12-13), ultimately through His Righteous One (Jer. 23:6; 33:18).483 Redeemed people can know the objective reality of right standing before a righteous God (Isa. 45:24-25; 51:7; 61:10), before whom they are to live righteous lives (Isa. 62:1-2) culminating in a kingdom of righteousness forever (Isa. 9:7; 61:14).

Fundamental to the use of עַדִּיק in the OT is the concept of God’s own righteousness, the truth that God’s decisions and actions always conform to His holy and just nature.484 This truth is set forth in Deut. 32:4:

The Rock, His work is perfect,

      for all His ways are just;

a God of faithfulness and without wrongdoing,

      He is righteous and upright.

This important text establishes the ground of divine activity, which is essential to man’s relationship to his Creator. Keil and Delitzsch remark: “As the rock, He is ‘a God of faithfulness,’ upon which men may rely and build in all the storms of life, and ‘without iniquity,’ i.e.,anything crooked or false in His nature.”485 For man, not only created in the image of God but also living in covenant relation with Him, God’s Person and actions become the foundation for his conduct. God’s perfection is its basis (Gen. 17:1; Ps. 78:72; Matt 5:48), His holiness its dynamic (Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:16), His truth its standard, and His love its imperative (Ps. 85:8-10 [HB 85:9-11]; Eph. 4:15).486 The righteous man, then, is the one who makes God’s righteous standards his own and lives in accordance with them.

Three of the key words in Hab. 2:4 are found also in Deut. 32:4: אֱמוּנָה, עַדִּיק, and יָשָׁר/ יָשְׁרָה.487 Habakkuk’s bringing together of these words is doubtless not accidental. The effect is to make the character and culpability of the arrogant Chaldean conqueror, the object of the prophet’s concern, appear all the more distinct. The basic qualities of moral responsibility and ethical behavior of men living in the presence of the sovereign judge of the earth are thus shown to be absent from Israel’s chastiser. Accordingly he will be judged (cf. Isa. 45:22-25).

The second problem has to do with the precise nuance of אֱמוּנָה. Since the etymology of אמן has often been taken as the key to the meaning of אֱמוּנָה, it is perhaps best to begin there.488 Although older commentators stated that the root idea is “be firm” and hence translated the noun as “firmness” or the like (so Keil; cf. BDB), Barr argues that the case for “be firm” cannot be demonstrated and suggests that,based on the meaning of ‘mn in the other Semitic languages, “feel secure” or “trust” would be more appropriate.489 Jepsen, however, cautions that the absence of the root in Akkadian, Ugaritic, and Canaanite-Phoenician makes its occurrence in Hebrew the earliest, so that “if an original meaning is still generally intelligible, it must be deduced from the Hebrew, rather than from the Syriac or Arabic”490 where the hiphil form of the verb was adopted. The matter is clouded still further by Baumgartner’s listing of two roots: I. “be steady/firm/trustworthy”; II. “set in order” (a denominative from אֹמֵן “keeper/guardian”).491 In sum, certainty as to an original meaning for the root escapes us.

The matter of the etymology of אמן, however, may have been overemphasized. As Barr points out,

Even assuming, therefore, that the ‘ultimate’ etymology of words of the root ‘-m-n is ‘firmness’, we have here an illustration of the harm of paying excessive attention to the most ultimate etymology and failing to consider what forms were current at the relevant times and what senses they bore in actual usage. Extant forms are not derived directly from the ultimate etymology or from the ‘root meaning’.492

Thus the meaning of אֱמוּנָה and its significance for Hab. 2:4 need to be determined largely its use in the Hebrew OT. Unfortunately here, too, a great deal of controversy has arisen as to whether this noun has an active (“trustfulness,” Barr) or passive (“trustworthiness,” J. B. Lightfoot493) sense. Jepsen appears to be on the right track in observing that אֱמוּנָה denotes “a way of acting which grows out of inner stability, ‘conscientiousness’ ... ‘emunah seems more to emphasize one’s own inner attitude and the conduct it produces.”494 Thus active and passive meanings are largely merged, אֱמוּנָה for people being an “inner stability, integrity, conscientiousness, cleanliness, which is essential for any responsible service,” and for God conduct that “corresponds to the nature of his deity.”495 If the active and passive meanings are both inherent in the word, God is not only trustworthy but also one who acts faithfully in accordance with His being. Similar qualities are expected of the believer, the noun prescribing “as a personal attribute of man, fidelity in word and deed ... and, in his relation to God, firm attachment to God, an undisturbed confidence in the divine promises of grace.”496 For Hab. 2:4, this means that the righteous believer is one in whom God’s righteous character has been reproduced; he can therefore be trusted to act faithfully toward all and especially toward God.

This emphasis is further underscored in the syntax of the clause, the Masoretic accents suggesting that בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ is to be taken with יִחְיֶה: “By his faithfulness (the righteous one) shall live.” This observation brings into focus the problem of the LXX translation: ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεώς μου ζήσεται ( ho de dikaios ek pisteo„s mou ze„setai, “but the just shall live by my faith”).497 Though some have suggested that a fundamental difference exists between the Greek and Hebraic perceptions here concerning אֱמוּנָה, because the Hebrew noun stresses the outworking of an inner reality the LXX translators

have rendered the word quite correctly πίστις, although by changing the suffix, and giving ἐκ πίστεώς μον instead of αὐτου` (or more properly ἑαυτου`: Aquila and the other Greek versions), they have missed, or rather perverted, the sense.498

Thus, aside from the change in pronouns, the LXX translators and the Hebrew author have the same perspective: faith and faithfulness can be viewed as aspects of a living reality—he who has faith will be faithful.499

Coupled with this truth is the fact that for the last clause of Hab. 2:4 “it is impossible to mistake the reference ... to Gen. xv. 6, ‘he believed ( heáe†mi„n) in Jehovah, and He reckoned it to him litseda‚-qa‚h.’“500 Although the nature of Abraham’s faith and his standing before God have been subjects of intense discussion among biblical scholars, the above study of the words and the force of the context make clear that “Abram accepted the Word of the Lord as reliable and true and acted in accordance with it; consequently, the Lord declared Abram righteous and therefore acceptable.”501 The proper conclusion as to the matter of Abraham’s righteous standing before God is summarized by Keil and Delitzsch:

This righteousness Abram acquired through his unconditional trust in the Lord, his undoubting faith in His promise, and his ready obedience to His word. This state of mind, which is expressed in the words בַּיהוָֹה הֶאֶמִין, was reckoned to him as righteousness, so that God treated him as a righteous man, and formed such a relationship with him, that he was placed in living fellowship with God.502

The well-known statement concerning the patriarch’s faith lies behind Habakkuk’s words; consequently the idea of a genuinely righteous man with right standing before God would not be foreign to the prophet.503 Scriptural precedent thus reinforces the blending of active and passive meanings in אֱמוּנָה. The force of the words accordingly becomes all the stronger: a genuinely righteous man will live out his faith in faithful activity.

So understood, Paul’s application of Hab. 2:4b, although admittedly shifted to serve his purpose, is not as far afield as commonly charged. The development of Paul’s argument in Romans demands that he took ἐκ πίστεως to modify ὁ δίκαιος rather than relating it to the verb as Habakkuk does: “The one justified by faith shall live.”504 The apostle emphasizes that man’s right standing before God is not based on works (cf. Eph. 2:8), not even those of the law (cf. Gal. 3:11), but only on genuine faith.505 This by no means suggests that Paul mishandled the words of Habakkuk’s prophecy. As Everett Harrison remarks,

Apparently he was not desirous of disturbing the form of a familiar quotation. We know that he would endorse the truth that the Christian is not only justified by faith but is also expected to live by faith in order to please God. Such an emphasis has its place, but only when the initial problem of the sinner has been met. The liberty involved in using a quotation in a way somewhat different from its original setting is necessitated by the progress of revelation.506

That the NT writers were aware of Habakkuk’s intended meaning seems certain by the citation of his words in Heb. 10:35-39 where, quoting the text of the LXX (though reading the pronoun “my” after “righteous one” and inverting the final two words of the verse: “My righteous one will live by faith[fulness]”), the author of Hebrews applies the outworking of the believer’s faith to his living in the certain hope of Christ’s coming.

As in Habakkuk the vision was surely to come, so in Hebrews it is an assured matter that the Coming One will come and not tarry long. And if in Habakkuk’s time the righteous man could be saved by his faithful and tenacious clinging to God, fidelity and fortitude are even more required of the righteous man to whom the author directs his appeal.507

Yet even here

there is no fundamental difference in this respect between Paul and the author of Hebrews; but our author, reproducing this clause together with part of its context, emphasizes the forward-looking character of saving faith, and in fact includes in “faith” not only what Paul means by the word but also what Paul more often expresses by the companion word “hope.”508

By way of summation it may be said that an analysis of all the data relative to Hab. 2:4 indicates that, unlike the righteous person who carries on his life in faithfulness to God, the wicked one goes on in his arrogance, devoid of upright desires. It is this principle that will be applied to the case of the Chaldean, whose moral and spiritual failure is catalogued in the verses that follow.

The Prophet’s Prayer and God’s Exaltation
(Habakkuk 3:1-19)

A perplexed prophet had awaited God’s instructions (2:1). They have come to him with assurance (2:2-3) and an expression of basic principles (2:4), together with application of God’s working in the current crisis (2:5-19). Habakkuk has been reminded that God was in charge and that He called for submission by all, including himself (2:20).

In humble response Habakkuk turns in prayer and praise to God. He beseeches God’s mercy in the midst of His righteous judgment (3:1-2). After laying bare his soul, he addresses God in a double poem of praise as the only one who can meet the needs of His people and His prophet (3:3-15). The prophecy ends on a high note. Having reviewed God’s mighty actions in redeeming and caring for His people, Habakkuk responds in fear and trust that his Redeemer will bring the divine purposes to their proper conclusions (3:16-18). The final verse (3:19) sounds a triumphant chord of praise to Israel’s Redeemer and puts forward Habakkuk’s guide for living.

The entire chapter is a prayer psalm (see introduction) complete with opening cry, attestation of praise, petition (v. 2), a central section of twofold praise (vv. 3-15), a renewed affirmation of trust in God (vv. 16-18), and a concluding note of praise (v. 19).509 The central portion was drawn from two ancient compositions culled from an epic cycle of Israelite poems celebrating the Exodus from Egypt (vv. 3-7) and the entrance into the land of promise (vv. 8-15). Other literary features include simile and metaphor (vv. 4, 8-10, 11, 14, 19), metonymy (vv. 2, 9?), merismus (vv. 3, 7), hyperbole (vv. 6, 11), paronomasia (vv. 13-14), personification (vv. 1, 5, 7?), rhetorical question (v. 8), enjambment (vv. 8, 16), climactic parallelism (v. 2), gender-matched parallelism (v. 3), staircase parallelism (v. 8), chiasmus (vv. 3, 5), synecdoche (v. 3), and alliteration and assonance.

A. The Prophet’s Prayer For The Redeemer’s Pity (3:1-2)

Having heard and understood God’s principles of judgment and their application, Habakkuk returns to the matter of Judah’s judgment. Unlike the condemnation of his people with which his spiritual struggle had begun (1: 2-4), the knowledge of the severity of the divine judgment strikes fear into God’s prophet. Though judicial wrath must come, Habakkuk pleads for God’s mercy.510


A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth*.

2LORD, I have heard the report concerning You*;

      I stand in fear, O LORD, of Your deeds*;

in the midst of years, renew* them,

      in the midst of years, make them known,

      in ferocity*, remember compassion*.

Exegesis and Exposition

Like many of the psalms, the next section of Habakkuk’s prophecy is given a heading. What follows is his prayer psalm, a composition to be set to music for use in worship. But “though its substance makes it suitable for usage in Israel’s worship in general, it is also tied intimately to Habakkuk’s particular experience of God which has dominated the first two chapters of the book.”511

Habakkuk begins his prayer with a cry and statement of praise that reflect his fear of God (v. 2a). The choice of the word “LORD” (Yahweh) rather than a more general term probably emphasizes the fact that Habakkuk addresses his words to Israel’s covenant God. He has heard of Yahweh’s past mighty deeds. Habakkuk has in mind the theophany expressed in the epic material commemorating the Exodus, the subject of vv. 3-15. Armerding underscores the likelihood of this suggestion:

The noun “fame” ( s†emaà) is normally used of secondhand information (e.g., Job 28:22; Nah 3:19), suggesting a remoteness from the hearer’s own experience to the persons or events referred to (cf. Job 42:5). The Lord’s “deeds” envisaged here corroborate this sense of remoteness, being associated with his sovereign power and preeminently with his “work” ( po„àal) at the Exodus (e.g., Num 23:23; Pss 44:1; 68:28; 77:12; 90:16; 95:9; 111:3; cf. v. 3)—a primary anchor-point of Israel’s recollection, faith, and hope, as is the Cross to the Christian.512

Nevertheless, the past work of God also often included times of judgment for His people.

In accordance with God’s message of the near chastisement of Judah, Habakkuk now prays for God’s miraculous intervention. He employs a stanza-closing tricolon framed in climactic parallelism and filled with alliteration and assonance (the use of velars and the letters z and r). He asks that (as in the past) God will, in the midst of these years in which the appointed time (cf. 2:3) of God’s work (cf. 1:5) of judgment is taking place, renew His deeds and thus again make known His work of redemption. With aching heart he urges God to be compassionate in the coming turmoil (cf. Ex. 34:6-7; 1 Kings 8:33-34, 46-53; 2 Chron. 6:24-25, 36-39; Isa. 54:8).

Habakkuk’s prayer would be answered according to the terms of Israel’s covenant with God (Deut. 4:25-31) and also the prophecies of Jeremiah (Jer. 25:1-11; 29:10-14; cf. 2 Chron. 36:22; Ezra 1;1; Dan. 9:2). His prayer and its realization stand as an earnest of God’s future gathering of His people in redemptive power (Deut. 30:1-3; Ezek. 36:24-38; 37:21-28; Amos 9:14-15; Mic. 4:6; Zeph. 3:20; Zech. 10:5-12).

Additional Notes

3:1שִׁגְיֹנוֹת (“shigionoth”) is derived from the verb שָׁגָה (“go astray”). Although words connected with this root are most often used in moral and spiritual contexts, this noun is employed twice as a musical notation: once in the singular (Ps. 7:1), here in the plural. Its combination with עַל ([up]on/according to”) in both places renders it certain that, like other such psalm headings, it must refer to the musical setting of the psalm. Keil observes that

all the notices in the headings to the psalms that are introduced with ‘al refer either to the melody or style in which the psalms are to be sung, or to the musical accompaniment with which they are to be introduced into the worship of God. This musico-liturgical signification is to be retained here also, since it is evident from the subscription in ver. 19, and the repetition of Selah three times (vers. 3, 9, 13), that our hymn was to be used with musical accompaniment.513

The precise understanding of the term, however, is disputed. Keil (see also Delitzsch, Laetsch, von Orelli) prefers the idea of a dithyramb with its wild, undulating, emotional setting. He also mentions the suggestion of Schmieder, who views it as a “strong, martial, and triumphal ode.”514 Armerding opts for “a vehement cry for justice against sin,”515 whereas Watts suggests a lament.516 The infrequency of the word’s occurrence as well as the uncertainty concerning it already evident in the ancient versions has caused most English translations simply to transliterate it.517 Blue’s conclusion covers the matter well:

It is unlikely that it refers to the content of the song, even though the Hebrew root verb may also mean “to transgress or err.” But the theme is not directed to the transgressions or wanderings of Babylon and Judah; the song centers on the majesty of God. Therefore it is much more reasonable to see shigionoth as having a musical-liturgical significance. Another musical notation is found at the end of Habakkuk 3. Possibly this song became a part of the temple worship.518

For תְּפִלָּה (“prayer”) see the introduction.

3:2שִׁמְעֲךָ (“the report concerning you”): The translation follows the NASB (cf. RSV) in taking the suffix as an objective genitive.

The translation of פָּעָלְךָ (“your deeds”; lit. “your work”) follows the NIV (cf. RSV) in viewing the noun as the object of the previous verb. This preserves the parallel balance with the preceding line.

Hiebert calls attention to the importance of the pairing of these two verbs:

Especially to be noted is the link between sŒmàk, the account about Yahweb, and p’lk, the content of that account. This pair of terms is linked by their semantic equivalence, their final position in parallel lines, their grammatical identity (direct objects with 2ms suffixes), and their phonetic correspondence.... They establish two motifs central to the poem: the hearing about the acts of God, and the response of great awe which this hearing evokes. The use of the vocative, yhwh, identifies at the outset the central focus of the poem, the God of Israel.519

The frequent proposal to attach פָּעָלְךָ to the following line (“revive thy work,” NASB; cf. KJV, NKJV) makes for a choppy translation, destroys the poetic balance, and ignores the necessity for taking the form as the antecedent for the suffix on “renew/revive.”

No need exists for emending יָרֵאתִי to רָאִיתִי with BHS (so also Ward).

חַיֵּיהוּ (“renew them”; lit. “renew it”): The verb can denote not only giving, calling, or creating life (Gen. 7:3; 19:32, 24; Deut. 32:39) but also reviving and renewing life (Pss. 80:19; 85:6 [HB 85:7]; 119:25) as well as preserving life (Gen. 12:12; Deut. 6:24; Ps. 22:29 [HB 22:30]). The reference here points to the redeeming work of God that is rehearsed in vv. 3-15. This conclusion is reinforced by noting the emphasis of שִׁמְעֲךָ and פָּעָלְךָ that precede.520

תּוֹדִיעַ in the succeeding line is reminiscent of Ps. 77:14 (HB 77:15). Since the following request for mercy also echoes Ps. 77:7-9 (HB 77:8-10), Habakkuk may be consciously drawing upon that psalm as a literary allusion by which to introduce the epic poem that follows, particularly since some of that material is reflected in Ps. 77:16-18 (HB 77:17-19). The objective pronoun in the previous line is here deleted, a common feature in Hebrew poetry.521 This makes unnecessary the LXX ἐπιγνωσθήσῃ (“make yourself known”). The LXX apparently viewed the MT verb as niphal ( תִּוָּדַע). Nor does the presence of תּוֹדִיעַ demand the reading חַוֵּיהוּ (“make it known,” “declare it”) in the preceding line, the sense of the MT being clear as it stands.522

דֹגֶז (“ferocity”) and רַחֵם (“compassion”) are expressive words. The former comes from a root that means “to tremble/shake” (cf. Hab. 3:7), often in rage (Isa. 28:21)523 or fear (Hab. 3:16). The noun itself occurs elsewhere only in Job, where it is employed of one’s troubles (Job 3:17, 26; 14:1), the rumbling of thunder (Job 37:2), or the fierceness of the war horse (Job 39:24), and in Isa. 14:3, where it depicts Israel’s oppression. Accordingly the noun here implies an action that produces a fearsome trembling, such as before a fierce storm.

The latter word signifies a warm love of great depth. A denominative from the word for “womb” and set here in emphatic position, it stresses the prophet’s concern that in the midst of His judgment God will remember to have tender compassion on His people.524

B. The Prophet’s Praise Of The Redeemer’s Person (3:3-15)

Habakkuk has been given answers to his perplexities. Summoned to silence by God, he has broken that silence only by praying for God’s mercy in the midst of judgment. He does so on the basis of his consideration of God’s past redemptive acts for His people, some of which he now rehearses for all to contemplate. His prayer is continued with a psalm of praise to the God who alone can meet the needs of all people. Habakkuk draws upon older poetic material that had formed part of a body of compositions commemorating God’s deliverance of His people at the Exodus and the entrance into Canaan.

The psalm consists of two distinct works (vv. 3-7, 8-15), each of which not only contributes to the corpus of epic poetry dealing with the Exodus but also is uniquely suited for adaptation into the prayer as a whole (see the Excursus on Habakkuk 3).

1. The Redeemer’s Coming (3:3-7)

The initial portion of Habakkuk’s psalm of praise has its orientation in Israel’s movement up from the Sinai peninsula through the Transjordanian countries on the way to the Jordan River crossing. The Exodus (cf. Ex. 15:1-10) and the movement to Sinai (cf. Ex. 15:11-13) have occurred; now after many years the final leg of the journey to Canaan is taking place. In these opening words God is seen leading the heavenly and earthly armies in their trek, a sight that strikes terror into the hearts of the citizens of that area. The poem, bookended by geographical terms (vv. 3, 7), has two stanzas (vv. 3-4, 5-7), the first of which is closed by a tricolon, the second by two tricola.

a. His appearance (3:3-4)

Eloah came* from Teman*, the Holy One* from Mount Paran*. (Selah*.)

His glory covered the heavens,

      and His praise* filled the earth.

4His brightness was like the light;

      rays* flashed from His very own hand,

      from the inner recesses of His strength*.

Exegesis and Exposition

The first poem deals with the movement from the southland. The historical perspective is variously understood, the majority opting for a relation to the theophany at Sinai (Armerding, Blue, R. Smith, von Orelli), some for Sinai as a representation of God’s triumphs, whether past (G. A. Smith) or future (Keil, Feinberg) or considered as a unit (Laetsch). W. F. Albright suggests its origin in “the period following the wilderness wanderings.”525 I am convinced that the orientation of the poem is the era of the wilderness wanderings, possibly in the final movement that led to the staging area from which the assault on Canaan would be made.

The poem opens with a description of God’s awesome appearance. Up from the Sinai peninsula to the south, through Edom and lower Transjordan, the heavenly entourage approaches the place from which the campaign against Canaan will be launched. The movement from the southeast is also mentioned in Judg. 5:4-5; Ps. 68:7-8 (HB 68:8-9); it seems to have been a vital element in Israel’s early epic tradition. Thus Cross, having underscored its importance, laments that “the relation of this motif, the march of Conquest, to the early Israelite cultus has been insufficiently studied.”526

The association of Yahweh with the south has in recent times been strengthened by texts discovered at Quntillet ‘Ajrud on the border between the southern Negev and the Sinai peninsula. One of them reads “I bless you by Yahweh of Teiman and his asherah.” A great deal of discussion has centered on the identification of this asherah and its association with Yahweh. Though many have suggested that the reference is to the name of a Canaanite goddess, the consort of Baal (e.g., Freedman), the matter is far from settled. André Lemaire offers compelling evidence that the word here refers to a sacred tree or grove, probably connected with cultic worship.527 In addition, because of Israel’s entrenched monotheism, it seems unlikely that a pagan deity would be affiliated with Yahweh as His consort, even in a splinter group far removed from the center of the Israelite cultus.

God is seen by His enemies not as Yahweh, Israel’s covenant God, but as Eloah, the Creator (Deut. 32:15) and Lord of the earth (Pss. 18:31 [HB 18:32]; 114:7). God is also declared to be the Holy One (Isa. 63), the one who convicts of sin and judges the world (Lev. 19:1; 20:7; Jer. 50:29; 51:5), but who is Israel’s Redeemer (Isa. 41:14; 43:1-3). The one whom Habakkuk had addressed in his second perplexity (Hab. 1:12) is the sovereign, holy God who had come long ago in all His glory.

Armerding suggests that the word for “glory” here, הוֹד ( ho‚d), “is used primarily of kingly authority (e.g. Num 27:20; 1 Chron 29:25; Ps 45:3; Zech 6:13), revealed preeminently in the Lord’s sovereignty over creation and history (cf. 1 Chron 16:27; 29:11-12; Job 40:10).”528 If so, it admirably reinforces the names for God here. He is thus seen in all His majesty and as the one whose splendor (cf. Job 37:22-23) permeates and transcends the heavens (Pss. 8:1 [HB 8:2]; 145:4).

It is no wonder, then, that His praise is said to fill the earth. Because the word translated “praise” sometimes means “splendor,”529 the effect is further enhanced. When one considers Him whose majestic splendor fills heaven and earth, he can but stand in awe of Him and sing His praises. This Habakkuk ultimately will do (Hab. 3:16-19).

In a graphic simile the brilliance of God’s glory is detailed. His splendor is said to be like the light. Although the root of נֹגַהּ ( no„gah) can be utilized of brightness in general (cf. Hab. 3:11) and Isaiah (Isa. 4:5; 60:13) employs it in describing the messianic era, it is characteristically used for the shining of the celestial luminaries (2 Sam. 23:4; Isa. 13:10; Joel 2:10; 3:15 [HB 4:15]). Ezekiel uses it to describe the radiant brightness of the glory of God (Ezek. 1:4, 28; 10:4). The psalmist also employs the root to depict the divine theophany in a context parallel to that of Habakkuk 3:4 (Ps. 18:12, 18 [HB 18:13, 29]; cf. 2 Sam. 22:13, 29). Since Ezekiel’s use includes an association with fire (Ezek. 1:13, 27), and fire attended the appearance of God at Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:16-19; Deut. 5:22-26; cf. Heb. 12:18-21), many commentators assume that the references in Habakkuk and Psalm 18 are to that event. But although Deut. 33:2 connects God’s glory with Sinai, it seems more likely that even there the reference is to Yahweh’s departure rather than to His glory as it descends upon Mount Sinai. The association of the glory of the Lord with Sinai is unmistakable; the point here, however, may be that the same glory that was seen at Mount Sinai and traveled with the people on their journeys (cf. Ex. 40:34-38) now moves in surpassing brilliance ahead of them.

Thus the primary thrust of the passage is on the theophany.530 The one who once appeared on Mount Sinai and who had filled the south-land with His glory now fills the heavens with splendor. Dazzling rays of light stream from that radiant glory, much like those from a glowing sun. These only point, however, to their source in the inner recesses of the omnipotent one.531 Keil puts it well:

In the sun-like splendour, with the rays emanating from it—is the hiding of His omnipotence, i.e. the place where His omnipotence hides itself; in actual fact, the splendour forms the covering of the Almighty God at His coming, the manifestation of the essentially invisible God.532

Additional Notes

3:3יָבוֹא (“come”): The form is preterite. The alternating of preterite and suffix-conjugation verbs is a mark of ancient Hebrew poetry and occurs throughout the double psalm that follows. Habakkuk will also employ it in conscious archaizing style in his concluding remarks (vv. 16-19).533

†Teman is the southernmost of Edom’s two chief cities. Edom itself is also called Teman (Obad. 9),534 the name stemming from a grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:11, 15, 42; Jer. 49:7, 20) whose descendants inhabited the area. (For Esau = Edom, see Gen. 25:25, 30.) Edom was formerly called Mount Seir (Gen. 36:8-9; Deut. 2:12). Paran designates not only a mountain range west and south of Edom and northeast of Mount Sinai but also a broad desert area in the Sinai peninsula. (For the juxtaposition of Seir and Paran, see Gen. 14:6.) All three terms are used as parallel names for the southern area that stretched as far as the Sinai peninsula (cf. Deut. 33:1-2a; Judg. 5:4-5).

†The musical term selah (cf. vv. 9, 13), probably indicating an instrumental interlude, is discussed in a helpful excursus by P. C. Craigie in Psalms 1-50, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983), pp. 76-77.

3:4 †Hiebert prefers to retain קַרְנַיִם in its usual sense of “horns,” pointing out a possible association with the word “strength” at the end of the verse. Such literalness does not seem necessary, however, in figurative poetry describing a theophany. In any case it makes for too rough a transition from the previous expressions. Nor is W. F. Albright’s suggestion to translate “(Yahweh) attacked like a bull(?)|| Provided with tossing horns” particularly helpful.535

עֻזֹּה (“his strength”): The spelling of the pronominal suffix reflects an older stage of the language. However, it is also attested in the later Lachish letters.536

b. His actions (3:5-7)

Plague went before Him,

      and pestilence went out at His feet.

6He stood and shook* the earth;

      He looked and made the nations tremble*.

The everlasting hills were shattered;

      the eternal hills were made low

      —His eternal courses*.

7I looked* on Tahath-Aven*;

      the tents of Cushan were trembling,

      the tent curtains of the land of Midian.

Exegesis and Exposition

As the holy God moves His hosts forward, His agents of judgment accompany Him. Plague is there (cf. Ex. 9:15; Deut. 28:21; Amos 4:10) and also pestilence* (cf. Deut. 32:24). Both seem to be personified here as though they made up part of the heavenly retinue (cf. Deut. 33:2-3). Keil observes: “Plague and pestilence, as proceeding from God, are personified and represented as satellites; the former going before Him, as it were, as a shieldbearer (1 Sam. xvii.7), or courier (2 Sam. xv.1); the latter coming after Him as a servant (1 Sam. xxv.42).”537

The first poem closes with a consideration of God’s initial strikes against the enemy, the scene portrayed dramatically in a double tricolon. Taking his stand, God throws into convulsion the age-old mountains (cf. Job 15:7; 20:4; Ps. 90:2 [HB 90:3]), the primeval paths (cf. Amos 4:13) of the one who “rides upon the heavens” (cf. Deut. 33:26; Ps. 68:33 [HB 68:34]). Whether the reference is to the hills of Transjordan, Canaan, or a widespread area of the Jordan Valley is unclear. The mention of such areas as Cushan* and Midian* would seem to favor the latter suggestion. Although tents and tent curtains are by metonymy singled out for special attention, the whole area from south to north felt the effects of God’s triumphant march. The Scriptures give evidence that seismic activity accompanied the Israelites at various stages of the Exodus, especially at the time of the conquest (Judg. 5:4-5; Pss. 18:7 [HB 18:8=2 Sam. 22:8]; 114:3-6). Under such conditions it is little wonder that the inhabitants of the area were struck with terror (cf. Ex. 15:14-16).538

Additional Notes

3:5 לְרַגְלָיו ... לְפָנָיו (“before him ... at his feet”) is set in chiastic arrangement.

The parallel lines have often been taken as evidence for viewing Deber as an epithet or alternative name of Resheph, the Canaanite god of pestilence and sterility.539

3:6וַיְמֹדֶד has customarily been translated either “measured” (RSV, KJV, NKJV; cf. NASB, “surveyed”) or “shook” (NIV; cf. LXX ἐσαλενvθη). The inappropriateness of the former meaning has led most critical expositors to favor the latter here. Scholars have suggested various biforms and alloforms to account for this understanding of מדד: (1) מוּד = מוּט (“crumble,” “set in reeling motion” — Keil), (2) מוּד = נָדַד/ נוּד (“move”—Hiebert; cf. מָטַט/ מוּט [“crumble”], נָטַט/ נוּט [“shake”]—Margulis), and (3) Arabic ma„da (“was convulsed”; G. R. Driver).

וַיַּתֵּר has occasioned several translations: διετάχη (“melt,” LXX), “drove asunder” (KJV), “startled” (NASB, NKJV), “shook” (RSV), made to tremble” (NIV). If the previous line is to be rendered “shook,” the NIV translation is the most appropriate. If the traditional understanding of מָדַד (“measure”) is retained, perhaps a root תּוּר (“spy out,” “survey”) might be suggested for the form here. The force of the following couplet and the dire effects of the preceding two favor a translation similar to that of the NIV for these two lines.

לוֹ עוֹלָם הֲלִיכוֹת: The line is difficult. It has usually been translated by the English versions “His ways are everlasting/eternal.” Albright suggested that the ל of the last word be combined with the first two words of v. 7 to read לתחתאן, an energic feminine plural of חָתָא with emphatic ל.540 So constructed, the newly constituted line would be translated “Eternal orbits were shattered.” While this suggestion is attractive and involves no consonantal revision, it leaves a metrical imbalance in vv. 6b and 7, which appear to have a 3/3/3 pattern. Further, the MT yields a reasonable sense as “His eternal courses.” The syntax of the line is reminiscent of Num. 23:22b: לוֹ רְאֵם כְּתוֹעֲפֹת (cf. Ps. 18:8 [HB]: לוֹ כִּי־חָרָה וַיִּתְגָּעֲשׁוּ).

3:7רָאִיתִי may be explained by recalling the similar employment of this verb in the Balaam oracles (Num. 23:9; 24:17). Indeed, the poet may have intended a deliberate pun or literary allusion to Num. 23:21: “He has not seen distress/wickedness in Jacob,|| nor has he looked upon trouble in Israel.”

The first line of v. 7 is difficult. It has frequently been taken with the first two words of the second line, leaving the last word of line two to be construed with line three. This makes for a smooth translation—”I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,|| the dwellings of Midian in anguish” (NIV)—and makes for a tolerable personification, but it leaves an unusually long pair of lines: 5/4. Despite the difficulty of the MT, it seems best to retain the more customary reading with its 3/3/3 meter.

The troublesome אָוֶו תַּחַת can be translated by the usual “in distress/affliction” but may perhaps be better taken as a geographical name paralleling Cushan and Midian in lines two and three. It may have been a name employed by the Hebrew poet to describe the general area where the enigmatic Cushan (= Egyptian Kushu?) and Midian were located—that is, southern Transjordan. If so, the whole verse forms a geographic inclusio with v. 3.541

The land of the Midianites is identified primarily with the southern part of Transjordan (e.g., Gen. 25:6; 36:35; Num. 10:29), and evidence now exists that Cushan was also located there. An interesting parallel to the biblical account here, including the seismic activity, is in a fragmentary inscription found at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud. As pointed out by Hiebert, “the context is the battle of the divine warrior. His appearance is accompanied by light (cf. Hab 3:4a), and the response to it is reflected in the convulsion of the cosmos: the mountains are melted and their peaks crushed.”542 Such an inscription from the very area where the biblical account is set is particularly significant.

2. The Redeemer’s Conquest (3:8-15)

The second poem is a victory ode that sings of the mighty strength of Israel’s Redeemer. His power is displayed at the waters of testing (vv. 8-9b), unleashed in the natural world (vv. 9c-11), and viewed by the enemy (vv. 12-15). Whereas the first two sections deal in a general way with the entire Exodus event (but focus particularly on the final movement into Canaan), the final section fixes its attention on the initial stage of the Exodus. The opening stanza begins with a rhetorical question framed in staircase parallelism and set in an initiating tricolon (v. 8). The subject matter of v. 8 deals largely with God’s actions in connection with water, a theme to which the poet will return in a final bookending reference to God’s victory at the Red Sea (v. 15). From start to finish, Israel’s God is shown to be the victor over all individuals and nations and the champion of those who follow in His train.

a. His power as seen at the waters (3:8-9b)

Yahweh, were You angry* with the rivers*,

      or* was Your wrath against the streams*

      or Your fury against the sea

when You were mounted upon Your horses,

      Your chariots of salvation*?

9You laid bare* Your bow;

      You were satisfied* with the club* that You commanded. (Selah.)

Exegesis and Exposition

The rhetorical question with which the second poem begins is for emphasis and vividness of effect.543 Addressing God personally, Habakkuk asks whether His actions against the waters were born of anger. All three words for wrath here characterize God’s judicial activity against anything that opposes His will. The tricolon with which the verse begins swells in intensity with the depiction of God’s anger, which bursts through all resistance.

That wrath is said to be directed at the waters. Using phraseology drawn from the epic literature familiar to the people of the Levant, particularly of Syro-Palestine, Yahweh is portrayed metaphorically as Israel’s mighty warrior who appears in His battle chariot (v. 8), armed with bow (v. 9a), club (v. 9b), arrows (v. 11b), and spear (v. 11c). Though the literary allusion is probably to Baal’s dispatching of his enemy Yamm (Sea),544 here Yahweh is shown to be the true Master over the forces of nature.

This, however, is no cosmic battle between deities representing the forces of nature; Yahweh comes as Israel’s champion against human opponents. In giving His people the victory He utilizes His power over the elements to aid His people (cf. Judg. 5:19-21). Not only at the Exodus from Egypt itself (cf. Ex. 15:12-15) but also at the Jordan River Yahweh has shown Himself to be sovereign over all forces and events. Keil points out that these two episodes in Israel’s history demonstrate God’s control over everything “as the Judge of the world, who can smite in His wrath not only the sea of the world, but all the rivers of the earth.”545

The reference to waters here probably intends the activities of God in connection with the entire Exodus event. The theme of water is prominent not only in the triumph at the Red Sea (Ex. 15) but also in passing through the Jordan (Josh. 3-4). Perhaps some of the early victories in the land (e.g., Judg. 4-5) are envisioned. In accordance with His promise to defend His people (Deut. 32:40-42), the God who is the Creator of the abyss and seas (Gen. 1:6-8; Pss. 24:2; 104:6; 2 Pet. 3:5) and the controller of the Flood (Gen. 6-8; 2 Pet. 3:6) and all watery domains (Job 38:8-11; Pss. 24:2; 104:7-13; 2 Pet. 3:7) moves out in the Exodus against the waters (and all His enemies) on behalf of His own. As Lord of the waters and Commander of the armies, He mounts His chariot fully armed with weapons for the fray. Thus equipped for battle He sets out to meet all obstacles, whether natural forces or human enemies.

Additional Notes

3:8 †Hiebert follows Albright in suggesting that both occurrences of the final -m on נָהָר are enclitic.546 Many have pointed out the Ugaritic parallelism of ym|| nhr.547 Dahood also calls attention to the use of מַרְכְּבוֹת|| סוּס here.548 The final noun has been taken by Freedman as standing at the end of a broken construct chain.549

חָרָה (“be angry”) is a 3d masc. sing. qal perfect verb agreeing either with יהוה (“Yahweh, were you angry?” [cf. NIV] or “Was Yahweh angry?” [cf. NASB]) or with אַף (“anger”) in the parallel line, hence to be translated “burn” (“Did [your anger] burn against the rivers?”). I have followed the lead of the NIV in taking יהוה as a vocative and translating it ad sensum. The LXX reads ὠργίσθης (“Were you angry?”), thus making both lines formally parallel with respect to being in the second person. The enallage in the MT, however, is common enough so that such emendation is unnecessary.550

†The deletion in BHS of בַּנְּהָרִים אִם (“or against the streams”) is not supported in the ancient versions. Far from being redundant, the line represents the poetic convention of employing a tricolon to demarcate the boundary of a unit.551

†The translation of יְשׁוּעָה as “salvation” is traditional. Despite Keil’s objection, in a martial context, “victory” (RSV) or “victorious” (NIV) is also appropriate. The metonymy here is effective, God’s deliverance being represented by the “chariots of salvation.”552

3:9תֵעוֹר (“you laid bare”—i.e., the quiver full of arrows, here associated metonymically with the bow): The verbal root has been taken to be either עוּר (“be bare/exposed”) or עָרָה (“lay bare”). Hiebert proposes another possible confusion:

The confusion represented in the MT and many of the versions may be easily explained on the basis of old orthography. The consonants t’r in early orthography could be either a form of ‘wr, “to awaken,” or of ‘rh, “to be bare,” in the latter case the short preterit form of a final weak verb.553

With the former alternative the preceding עֶרְיָה is often repointed as a piel infinitive absolute (cf. BHS, Hiebert), yielding “You laid quite bare Your bow.”554 עֶרְיָה could of course be retained as an internal object from the same verbal root or semantic range as the verb, here placed first for emphasis (cf. Mic. 1:11) in a double accusative construction.555

The verb itself can be viewed either as a 2d masc. sing. or 3d fem. sing. imperfect (prefix conjugation), the choice depending on the understanding of the parallel line. Albright decides for the former and translates “Bare dost Thou strip Thy bow”;556 Keil follows the latter course: “Thy bow lays itself bare.”557 As for the troublesome second line, Margulis laments: “The second hemistich is patently impossible.”558 No consensus as to its translation has been reached. Laetsch points out that by his day Delitzsch had counted more than one hundred different interpretations of this difficult line.559

That the divine warrior’s weapons are taken in hand is clear from the parallel pair קֶשֶׁת|| מַטֶּה.560 The use of special weapons such as lightning is familiar from the literature of the ancient Near East. Thus Ward remarks: “Syrian and Hittite art frequently represents Adad-Ramman, god of storm, as armed with the same weapons, while the Babylonian art gave this western god the forked thunderbolt.”561

†For the MT שְׁבֻעוֹת (“oaths”) I have followed the lead of some ancient versions (Pesh., LXXBarb) and many scholars in reading (with no consonantal change) שִׁבַּעְתָּ (“you were satisfied”),562 an understanding attested elsewhere in contexts dealing with fighting and weaponry. In addition to Jer. 46:10, one may note the case of Anat’s fighting as recorded in the Baal cycle: “Anat fought hard and gazed (on her work), she battled ... until she was sated, fighting in the palace.”563 The NIV relates the MT consonants to שָׁבוּעַ (“heptad”) and translates “many arrows.” Although other versions trace the form to the verb שָׁבַע (“swear”; NASB, KJV, NKJV), some translate ad sensum: “You put (the arrow to) the string” (RSV; cf. NJB). Even though a final solution for the line is not forthcoming, its association with the preceding lines and the literary motif of the divine warrior make the general sense of God’s actions on behalf of His people clear enough.

†The final אֹמֶר may be understood as the name of God’s war club, the noun coming from a verbal root מָרַר (“drive out”).564 If so, it could be a veiled reflection of or scribal pun on Baal’s war weapon Aymur (“Expeller”).565 Perhaps the simplest solution is to view the final t of mat£t£o‚t as a double-duty consonant, yielding the translation given above.566

b. His power as seen in the natural world (3:9c-11)

You split open the earth* with rivers;

      10the mountains saw You; they trembled.

Torrents of water swept by;

      the deep gave its voice,

      it lifted its hands on high.

11Sun and moon* stood still in their lofty height*,

      at the light* of Your flying arrows,

      at the flash* of the lightning, Your spear.

Exegesis and Exposition

The scene changes from preparation to engagement in battle. Continuing the motif of the divine warrior, the psalm portrays the Lord’s striking with awesome force. Perhaps it is a club that is used first. As it smites the earth with titanic power, it splits the land open, the mountains crumble, and the subterranean waters and surface rivers (fed by an intense storm; cf. Gen. 7:12; 8:2; Judg. 5:21) overflow their natural boundaries (cf. Job 38:8-12; Judg. 5:4-5; Pss. 18:7-15 [HB 18:8-16]; 68:7-8 [HB 68:8-9]; 77:16-19 [HB 77:17-20]; 144:5-6). Hiebert rightly declares:

The predominant image in this description of nature’s response is the agitation of cosmic waters. Three of the six cola in this subsection mention the waters. Subterranean rivers erupt (v 9b); water pours from the clouds (v 10a); and the deep roars (v 10b). Just as the ancient mountains, founded firmly on the waters at creation, are shaken (vv 6, 10a), so the cosmic waters, restrained at creation behind designated boundaries, break out.567

The waters of the abyss (Gen. 49:25; Deut. 33:13) are said to cry out and lift up their hands, perhaps in terror (Laetsch) or prayer (Delitzsch). As a figure of battle, this doubtless refers to the force with which the waters roar from their subterranean prisons and the tossing waves that cap the surface of the waters. The imagery of a plaintiff crying to the God who alone rescues from danger may also be present. If nature is subject to the omnipotent one, surely the case is no different for mankind (cf. Pss. 19:1-4 [HB 19:2-5]; 104:31-35; 148:1-4). In any event, the figure is appropriate to the theophany associated with the culminating moments of the Exodus. Indeed, the description in vv. 9c-10 fits well the details of the crossing of the Jordan, which report a river at flood stage (Josh. 3:15) and intense seismic activity (Ps. 114:3-6).568

The drama of warfare continues in v. 11 with a hyperbolic description of the celestial scene. The heavenly warrior shoots His arrows and hurls His spears so that the sun and the moon appear to stand still in their courses. They are largely obscured by the darkness that attends the heavy clouds, seen only intermittently amid the flashing lightning.569 The severity of the storm is underscored by the two tricola with which the unit ends; it is nothing less than the presence of Israel’s mighty God (cf. Ps. 29).

Is there a veiled reference here to the famous “long day” of Joshua recorded in the book of Jashar (Josh. 10: 12-13), as suggested in the Targum and by several Jewish (e.g., Rashi, Kimchi) and some Christian scholars (e.g., Hailey, Pusey)? If so, the Exodus epic must have contained several songs of the conquest period. In any case, the strophe (vv. 9c-11) is appropriate not only for describing the events of the Jordan crossing and the early conquest period but also for the imagery of theophany and the theme of judgment.570

Additional Notes

3:9cאָרֶץ in the first line (v. 9c) has been understood as either the subject or the object. Because the 2d masc. sing. verbal suffix is read in the following line, it seems best to retain the traditional understanding of תְּבַקַּע as a 2d masc. sing. verb and view “earth” as its object. Thus the sentence forms a syntactical parallel with the following lines where the activity of the mountains is recorded. “Earth” parallels “mountains” in several texts commemorating this event (e.g., Judg. 5:5; Ps. 18:7 [HB 18:8]).571

3:10 Hiebert calls attention to the juxtaposition of suffix- and prefix-conjugation verbs in רָאוּךָ and יָחִילוּ:

The shift from suffixal to prefixal forms here, as well as in the rest of the poem, is to be understood not as a shift between perfect and imperfect states but as the archaic use of perfect and preterit forms to convey past narrative, a practice best exemplified in Ugaritic poetry. The same sequence of these two verbs is in fact found in Ps 77:17 ( ráwk mym rh£ylw), part of an archaic theophany very similar to Hab 3:8-15.572

Hiebert also finds the influence of Ps. 77:17 (HB 77:18) in the next line, which he emends (with the support of a Hebrew fragment from Wadi Murabba’at) to read עָבוֹת מַיִם זֹרְמוּ (“clouds poured down water”).573 Though the conjecture is attractive and has the advantage of some ancient manuscript support and precedent in similar contexts (cf. also Judg. 5:4), the evidence is still too meager to set aside the MT עָבָר מַיִם זֶרֶם (“torrents of water swept by”), which has the support of the ancient versions.

For the parallelism of נָשָׂא|| נָתַז, see the remarks of M. Dahood in RSP 1:218. For the collocation of קוֹל and תְּהוֹם, see Dahood’s discussion in RSP 1:372-73.

3:10-11 †The lack of metrical balance at the end of v. 10 and the beginning of v. 11 has occasioned several suggestions for dividing the lines. Dahood takes רוּם with the first line of v. 10b and reads “the abyss gave forth its haughty voice.”574 Albright takes the שֶׁמֶשׁ of v. 11 with v. 10 and translates “The Exalted One, Sun, raised its arms.”575 The translation adopted here takes יָרֵחַ שֶׁמֶשׁ as a composite name, formed perhaps as a result of a deletion transformation so as to achieve the desired three poetic lines. The juxtaposition of sun and moon participating in earthly events is noted elsewhere (e.g., Josh. 10:12-13; Isa. 13:10; Joel 2:10; 3:4; etc.). The words are of course familiar set terms.576

This proposal does away with the problem of the lack of connection between שֶׁמֶשׁ and יָרֵחַ and any incongruity between them and the MT sing. verb עָמַד (“stand”). It also yields (with the next verse) a closing double tricolon for the subunit dealing with God’s actions in the natural world (vv. 10b-11).

There is no textual support for the conjectural emendation of BHS, followed by some, to read “The sun forgets its rising” or the suggestion of the NEB to translate “The sun forgets to turn in its course.”

3:11זְבֻלָה (“[their] lofty height”): BHS proposes a repointing to זְבֻלֹה, the resultant masc. sing. suffix thereby agreeing with יָרֵחַ. However, the MT fem. ending can be explained as agreement with שׁמֶשׁ, often construed as a fem. noun.

Smith calls attention to the fact that זְבֻל used here for the dwelling place of the sun and moon is usually reserved for the “exalted dwelling place of God.”577 Since sun and moon are among the heavenly retinue, they may also be viewed as being where God dwells.578

לְנֹגַהּ ... לְאוֹר (“at the light ... at the flash”): Most modern translations take the subject of these prepositional phrases to be the sun and moon of the first line of the verse (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, NJB, RSV), an understanding found in some ancient versions (Vg, Pesh.) and followed by most commentators. The accents of the MT, however, indicate that the subject of the two lines in question is to be understood differently, as reflected in Ward’s translation:

For light thine arrows go forth,

For brightness the glittering of thy spear.579

So perceived, the two prepositional phrases are viewed as governed by subjects in their own lines. This arrangement is also reflected in the LXX, OL, and Tg. Neb. and followed by Hiebert, who translates the prepositional phrases under consideration adverbially: “brightly ... brilliantly.” Middle ground in the debate is found by Keil, who takes the prepositional phrases as dependent on the previous line but views “arrow” as the subject of the following verb, which he interprets as standing in a relative clause: “At the light of Thine arrows which shoot by, at the shining of the lightning of Thy spear.”580

Any of the proposed suggestions is somewhat satisfactory and yields essentially the same result. The translation given above follows the lead of Keil and the NIV in (1) relating the two lines in question closely and causally to the previous statement concerning the sun and moon and (2) taking the verb יְהַלֵּכוּ as subordinate to חִצֶיךָ (thus “your flying arrows”), but (3) repoints the construct noun בְּרַק (“lightning of”) as an absolute noun (“lightning”) and (4) takes the following “spear” as apposition. Thus the celestial luminaries are obscured by the brilliance of the electric storm.

c. His power as seen by the enemy (3:12-15)

In indignation You trod upon* the earth;

      in anger You trampled* the nations.

13You went out for the salvation of Your people,

      for the salvation of* Your anointed.

You smote the head of the house of evil;

      laying him bare* from his lower parts to his neck (selah),

      14You split his head with his own club*.

His warriors* stormed out;

      to scatter the humble was their boast,

      like devouring the poor in secret.

15You trod upon the sea with Your horses*,

      heaping up* many waters.

Exegesis and Exposition

Once again the scene is changed. With the initial phase of the attack in the natural world having been launched, Yahweh’s wrath is directed at those nations that have troubled His people. If the presence of God that spread across the sky sent the earth into cataclysmic upheaval, so much the more will God’s power moving through the area bring down the ungodly nations.

Habakkuk had begun his prophecy with a perplexity as to why God tolerated injustice or at least did not save the righteous from the unrighteous (1:2-3). When he was informed of God’s intention to use the godless Chaldeans to bring judgment to His people (1:5-11), Habakkuk was all the more perplexed (1:12-2:1). The words of the ancient epic poem that he now considers remind him of the just nature of God. Though the Lord may employ nations and people of all sorts to do His bidding, He will ultimately deal with them on their own merits (cf. Isa. 24:1-6; 63:1-6; Jer. 50:9-13; Hos. 1:4; Nah. 3:4). Further, He will deal with them according to their troubling of His people Israel (cf. Gen. 12:3; Isa. 26:12-20; Joel 3:1-8 [HB 4:1-8]; Obad. 14-15; Zeph. 2:10).

God’s indignation against the nations in this regard can mean the deliverance of His own people, as here. Indeed, salvation/deliverance was at the heart of the epic cycle concerning the Exodus (Ex. 15:2). God redeems His people out of Egypt (Ex. 15:1-10, 14-18; Hab. 3:12-15), carries them to Sinai where He reveals Himself to them (Ex. 15:11-13), and then, as their triumphant Redeemer, goes before them both to demonstrate His redemptive power to the nations and to bring His people victoriously into the land (Deut. 33:2-3; Judg. 5:4-5; Pss. 18:7-15 [HB 18:8-16]; 68:7-8 [HB 68:8-9]; 77:16-19 [HB 77:17-20]; 144:5-6; Hab. 3:3-11). That Exodus theme is perpetuated throughout the OT (e.g., Num. 23:21-24; 24:8-9, 17-19; Deut. 4:35-40; Josh. 23:3-6), especially among the prophets who build upon it in looking forward to the final salvation of Israel in a future day (e.g., Isa. 10:20-22; 25:9; 35:4; 41:11-16; 43:1-13; 49:8-26; 50:11; 52:7-10; 54:6-10; Jer. 23:5-8; 32:37-44; Ezek. 34:11-16; 36:24-38; 37:21-28; Hos. 2:14-3:5; Joel 2:31-32 [HB 3:4-5]; Amos 9:11-15; Obad. 17; Mic. 2:12-13; 4:1-7; 5:5-15; Nah. 1:13-15; Zeph. 3:8-20; Hag. 2:23; Zech. 14:3; Mal. 4:5-6).

The salvation of God’s anointed* is singled out for particular attention. Although historically the term here probably has reference to Moses, it can be applied also to the ruling member of the Davidic line, whose future coming was recorded by Moses (cf. Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:19). David understood his role as God’s anointed (2 Sam. 7:8-29; 23:1-7), and the Scriptures from his time forward proclaim the inviolability of the far-reaching provisions in the Davidic Covenant (cf. Pss. 2; 45:2-7; 89:3-4, 19-24, 27-37 [HB 89:4-5, 20-25, 28-38]; 110; Jer. 33:19-26; Ezek. 34:20-31) that will find their ultimate realization in Israel’s Messiah (Isa. 42:1-7; 48:16-17; 49:1-7; 52:13-53:12; Jer. 23:5-8; Ezek. 37:24-28; Zech. 9:9; cf. Isa. 61:1-2 with Luke 4:18-19; see further Luke 1:68-78; Acts 2:29-36; 3:24-26; 15:16-17; Rev. 11:15). Accordingly A. G. Nute’s observation is well taken:

Nor is this great statement to be confined to the events of Habakkuk’s day, or to the fortunes of Israel. It is satisfied only when applied to the advent of Him of whom it was said, ‘you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’ (Mt. 1:21).581

The last two lines of v. 13 and the first line of v. 14 form a tricolon filled with problems, chief of which is the figure involved. Does God’s smiting* refer to the defeat of a mythological figure (Albright, Hiebert, R. Smith), the kingdom of the ungodly (von Orelli) with Satan at its head (Laetsch, Pusey), or a wicked enemy (Fausset, Margulis) such as Pharaoh (Armerding), the Chaldeans (Feinberg, Hailey), or the Chaldeans as representative of all godless nations (Keil)? Because the primary orientation of these verses is the Exodus redemption, probably the historical reference is to Pharaoh and the armies of Egypt over whom God in Moses, His anointed, achieved the victory. The idea of a victorious Redeemer could be applied to the subsequent defeat of the enemy in the land (cf. Josh. 6; 10:12-13; Judg. 5:19-23; etc.) and to all the victories that the Lord gave to Israel (e.g., 2 Kings 19:32-36) and will yet accomplish in a future day (Ps. 110:5-6; Isa. 17:12-14; 24:21-23; 34:1-4; 63:1-6; 66:14-16, 22-24; Ezek. 38-39; Joel 3:9-17 [HB 4:9-17]; Amos 9:11-12; Obad. 19-21; Mic. 4:11-13; Zeph. 3:8-11; Hag. 2:20-22; Zech. 12:2-4; 14:1-5; Mal. 4:1-3; etc.).

Accordingly, Armerding points out that

this verse provides further evidence of the double perspective of the chapter: the oppression in Egypt foreshadows subsequent oppression, and the deliverance at the Red Sea embodies the promise of subsequent deliverance. The term “anointed one” lends itself more readily to later usage, both with reference to the preexilic kings and in anticipation of the eschatological Messiah.582

Doubtless this feature of the psalm was not lost on Habakkuk. He would have found encouragement and comfort in applying the passage to the coming defeat of the Chaldeans. Thus Blue remarks:

God had destroyed Pharaoh’s horsemen who pursued Israel (Ex. 14:23-28) and other leaders (Num. 21:23-25; Josh. 6:2; 8:28-29; 10-11). If God could do this, He could destroy Babylon. Belshazzar, also a “leader” in a “land of wickedness,” was stripped of his power (Dan. 5:26-28, 30-31).583

An added problem, but one related to the first, has to do with the employment of the word רֹאשׁ ( ro„ásŒ, “head”)*. Should both occurrences of this term be applied literally to the head of an individual (Albright) or creature (Hiebert), to the upper part of a house,584 or to the godless leader of the nations (Fausset)? Could a double reference be intended here,585 such as ro„ásŒ meaning the wicked leader presented under the figure of a house (Keil, Laetsch)? Because Cassuto has shown that the controlling verb ( מָחַץ) is commonly used in Ugaritic and the OT to signify a blow that a warrior gives to his enemy,586 it seems best to understand an instance of paronomasia and differentiate the uses of ro„ásŒ, viewing the first as the enemy leader but the second as a literal head. So understood, the general statement (v. 13c) is taken up with the image of personal mortal combat. Yahweh first wounds (perhaps with the spear) the enemy so gravely that his body is laid open with a gaping hole (v. 13b); He then delivers the coup mortel to the head with His foe’s own mace (v. 14a).

The referent of the poetic imagery (if one is demanded587) is difficult to ascertain. The poetry may simply celebrate God’s general victory over Pharaoh, or it may contain a veiled reference to Pharaoh’s defeat in the plague of the firstborn.

The poem closes (vv. 14b-15) with details that provide a follow-up to the previous scene. The enemy’s warriors storm out against the people of God like brigands coming upon the helpless. Keil’s comments on the simile are to the point: “The enemies are compared to highway murderers, who lurk in dark corners for the defenseless traveller, and look forward with rejoicing for the moment when they may be able to murder him.”588 The event commemorated here may be the Egyptians’ pursuit of the fleeing Hebrews (Ex. 14:5-9). If so, the last verse of the poem is doubly apropos: it not only sings of the miraculous deliverance of the children of Israel through the “many waters” (cf. Ex. 15:10) of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:13-22, 29-31) but also bookends the theme of God’s action against waters with which the poem began (v. 8).

If, as suggested above, v. 8 deals primarily with the events toward the end of the Exodus experience, v. 15 produces the basis for the whole chain of events: the great deliverance from Egypt.589 The double psalm thus ends on a note of redemption. Israel’s God, who brought them through the waters of testing with a mighty power that left all nature in convulsion and who led His people in triumph, was the one who had been with them since the deliverance out of Egypt. A victorious Redeemer, He could be counted on to save once more a repentant and submissive people. This truth should prove to be a source of assurance for a troubled prophet. “Just as God went through the Red Sea in the olden time to lead Israel through, and to destroy the Egyptian army, so will He in the future go through the sea and do the same, when He goes forth to rescue His people out of the power of the Chaldaean.”590

Additional Notes

3:12תִּצְעַד (“you trod upon”): The verb occurs with יָצָא elsewhere in the epic literature detailing God’s actions on behalf of His people during the Exodus event (Judg. 5:4; Ps. 68:7 [HB 68:8]). LXX ὀλιγώσεις (“you will diminish”) probably represents a reading תִּצְעַר (“you will grow insignificant”), doubtless due to confusion between the consonants ד and ר.

תָּדוּשׁ (“you trampled”) is picturesquely rendered in the Vg obstupefacies, “you will render senseless/stupefy.” The term is a key one in the double psalm. Thus Armerding observes:

The common metaphor of threshing implies violent shaking and crushing, which also characterizes the effects on the “earth” and mountains as the Lord “strode” by (Judg 5:4-5; Ps 68:7-8; cf. 1 Kings 19:11-12; Ps 77:18-19). Thus v. 12 also recapitulates the imagery of earthquake from v. 10: in effect it resumes and integrates the content of both vv. 3-7 and vv. 8, 9-11 at the introduction to this concluding section (vv. 12-15), in which the goal of the Lord’s “wrath” and salvation becomes evident whether acting on the “earth” or the “nations.”591

The parallel pair זַעַם|| אַף appears elsewhere of God’s indignation against His enemies (e.g., Isa. 30:27). Especially instructive is Isa. 10:5 where not only this pair is found but also מַטֶּה (Hab. 3:9) appears: “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of My anger, in whose hand is the club of My wrath.”

3:13לְיֵּשַׁע (“for the salvation of”) is rendered as an infinitive by the LXX: του` σῶσαι (“to save”; cf. Tg. Neb.). On the basis of OT usage, however, one would expect an infinitival form לְהוֹשִׁיעַ, unless as Dahood suggests the MT should be repointed to read לְישַׁע (yiphil infinitive construct).592 Albright (cf. NIV) translates both cases of לְיֵשַׁע as infinitives.593

The appearance of the particle אֶת־ after the second לְיֵשַׁע has added to the difficulty. D. N. Freedman considers this to be an example of a broken construct chain and translates the phrase “for the salvation of your anointed.”594 The particle should probably be viewed as an instance of its use with a noun carrying an implied causative verbal force, an employment expanded from its normal function of marking the definite direct object of a verb. Its force is thus emphatic here.595 One could also adopt Pusey’s suggestion of taking אֶת as the preposition “with”; however, this would obscure the parallelism between the two lines, unless “with” is to be understood in both lines even though it appears only in the second:

You went forth for victory with your people,

for victory with your anointed one.596

The term מְשִׁיחֶךָ (“your anointed”) has been taken as referring to the nation Israel (Ewald, Hitzig, Barker), to Israel’s Davidic king (R. Smith; cf. 2 Sam. 23:1), or to the Messiah (Hailey, Keil, Laetsch, von Orelli). If the reference is primarily historical and has in view the era of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings, the term must refer to Moses. Although “Your anointed” seemingly forms a parallel to “Your people,” Israel is nowhere else called by this term. Rather, “the anointed” is customarily reserved for individuals such as the high priest (Ex. 40:13) or the king (2 Sam. 23:1; note also Cyrus, Isa. 45:1). If Moses is intended, Pusey may be right in suggesting that the אֶת is to be taken as the preposition “with” (cf. Vg in salutem cum Christo tuo), for God promised Moses that He would be with him (Josh. 1:5; note, however, that the preposition there is עִם).597

3:13c-14a רֹאשׁ (“head”): Hiebert notes the progression of thought in the lines and so proposes deleting the first ראֹשׁ and emending מִבֵּית (“from the house of”) to בָּמַת (“the back of”). He cites examples from Ugaritic and Mesopotamian literature where a warrior delivers a blow first to the body and then to the head. The proposal given in the Exegesis and Exposition likewise draws upon ancient Near Eastern literary precedent in that a blow is given first to the body of the foe and then crushingly to the head. But contrary to Hiebert, it retains the reading of the MT. This understanding has several advantages: (1) It preserves the received text with a smooth transition that moves from identifying the enemy to describing personal combat. (2) It maintains contact with the details of two-stage fighting attested in the ancient literature, such as Marduk’s slaying of Tiamat first by delivering an arrow down her throat and then by a crushing blow to her skull,598 the Egyptian Sinuhe’s dispatching of his Amorite foe by an arrow to the neck followed by a deathblow with his battle-axe,599 and Baal’s defeat of Yamm with a blow first to the body and then to the head.600 (3) It has numerous interesting points of contact with stories of personal combat, such as the final blow delivered with the enemy s own weapon (in addition to the case of Sinuhe may be mentioned David’s decapitation of Goliath, 1 Sam. 17:51) and the striking coincidence that the Akkadian word used for the bodily part upon which Marduk stands (Enuma Elish IV: 129), isŒdu (“foundation”), is cognate with יְסוֹד (“lower part,” “foundation”; cf. NASB “thigh”) found in Hab. 3:13. In light of all of this (see also the next note), no emendation of the MT is necessary.

עָרוֹת (“laying bare”) is best taken as an infinitive absolute detailing the activity of the main verb.601 This eliminates the need for repointing the form as a 2d masc. sing. piel suffix-conjugation verb (cf. BHS), a reading suggested in the LXX and Vg. The “laying bare” (or “stripping”) probably does not intend denuding the foe (cf. 2 Sam. 10:4; Isa. 20:4). The word can mean “laying bare by removal” (cf. Gen. 24:20; 2 Chron. 24:11). So construed here it would refer to taking away the weapons and defenses of the foe, so that whatever weapons or defenses he might possess would be rendered useless. A third possibility exists, however: “laying bare” could refer to severe wounding or loss of life (cf. Ps. 141:8). If so, this act is then followed by the traditional blow to the head. On the whole, the parallel with the scriptural and extrabiblical literature favors the last suggestion.

3:14 †For the MT 3d masc. sing. suffix pronoun in בְמַטָּיו (“with his club/spear/shafts”; cf. Vg; Tg. Neb.) BHS suggests a 2d masc. sing. suffix pronoun (cf. LXXBarb). But the Greek tradition may be an accommodation to the previous חִצֶּיךָ in v. 11. The translation “club” is retained here (cf. v. 9), the plural being viewed as one of composition or intensification.602

פְרָזָו (“his warriors”): The word has been variously rendered as “villages” (KJV, NKJV; cf. Laetsch “villagers”), “rulers/leaders” (LXX), “throngs/hordes” (NASB, Keil, R. Smith), “warriors” (Vg, NJB, NIV, RSV). The latter idea seems most appropriate to the context here and suits as well that of another early Hebrew poem found in Judg. 5:7.603

The last three lines of v. 14 are obscure. Thus Hiebert laments:

The remainder of v 14 is the lengthiest textual puzzle of the chapter. The next four words of the MT are understood very differently by the OG, and differently still by Barb. And the final four words of the MT, though confirmed by the OG and Barb, are hard to understand in the context. The disparity among the versions at this point in the poem indicates an ancient disruption in the text which may no longer be possible to correct.604

The position taken here suggests that there are three lines of text in a 2/3/3 pattern rather than the two lines of 3/4 as traditionally rendered. Key to understanding is the dividing of לַהֲפִיצֵנִי into two words: פּוּץ (“scatter”) and צְנִיעַ (“humble”) by viewing the צ as another example of a double-duty consonant. The resultant translation not only yields better sense but also parallels צְנִיעַ (“humble”) and עָנִי (“poor”). So construed, צְנִיעַ would take its place alongside such words as אֶבְיוֹן in context with עָנִי.605

3:15 †For the figure of God treading upon the sea, see Ps. 77:19 (HB 77:20).606 סוּסֶיךָ is an adverbial accusative absolute, which, in compressed language, complements the action of the main verb and governs the sense of the following line. The preposition of line one is also to be understood in the second line.607

†The LXX ταράσσοντας (“stirring up”; cf. NIV) represents a valid understanding of the MT חמר (cf. Ps. 46:4). However, the idea of the heaping up of the waters (cf. KJV, NKJV) is not inappropriate to the context, particularly as one that originates in the epic literature concerning the Exodus (cf. Ex. 15:8; Josh. 3:13, 16). BHS suggests the addition of בְּ to חֹמֶר (cf. Vg, Tg. Neb.), taking the resultant form as a preposition with a noun, “on the surge” (cf. NASB).

C. The Prophet’s Pledge To The Redeemer’s Purposes

Habakkuk ends his prophecy with affirmations of personal commitment and praise. Having been dramatically reminded of the past exploits of God against the wicked and His saving intervention on behalf of His people, the prophet is overwhelmed. Now that he understands who God is and the principles and methods of His activities, it is enough for Habakkuk. He will trust Him through the coming hour of judgment and rejoice no matter what may happen (vv. 16-18). Borrowing phraseology from the repertoire of ancient Hebrew poetry, he closes the account of his spiritual odyssey on a high note of praise (v. 19).

From a literary perspective the passage is marked by chiasmus (vv. 16, 19) and simile (v. 19), is linked to the previous section by means of the stitch-words דָּרַךְ ( da„rak, “tread/walk”; v. 19; cf. v. 15) and יָשַׁע ( ya„sŒaà, “save/deliver”; v. 18; cf. vv. 8, 13), and is constructed with the divine name Yahweh (vv. 18, 19), the root רגז (rgz, v. 16), and the statement “I have heard” (v. 16) as bookending devices designed to form an inclusio with the opening section (v. 2) of the chapter. All this provides a unity to the chapter that allows it to form a grand liturgical psalm of prayer.

1. A Statement Of The Prophet’s Trust In The Redeemer (3:16-18)

I heard and my inward parts* trembled,

      my lips quivered* at the sound;

decay* came into* my bones,

      and I moved with faltering footsteps*.

I will rest* during the day of distress (and)

      during the attack against the people invading us.

17When* the fig tree has not blossomed*

      and there is no fruit on the vines,

the olive crop has failed*

      and the fields* have produced no food,

the flock has been cut off* from the fold*

      and there is no cattle in the stalls*,

18I will rejoice in Yahweh,

      I will be joyful in the God of my salvation.

Exegesis and Exposition

Habakkuk had asked that God show mercy to His people in the midst of judgment and that God would make alive once more His great deeds of old (v. 2). In answer to His prophet, God had reminded him afresh of His mighty works at the time of the Exodus, as sung by the ancient poets. Had Habakkuk also been allowed a visionary glimpse of those past exploits? Many think so (e.g., Laetsch, Nute, R. Smith). Typical of these scholars is Blue, who, having suggested that the prophet was ushered into the presence of God, remarks with regard to that experience, “Obviously anyone who witnessed this amazing display of God’s power would be left in awe. Habakkuk was no exception. He had asked for a show of God’s might (v. 2). Little did he realize what a display it would be.”608 Whether Habakkuk was allowed to behold the theophanic splendor of old in a vision or simply visualized it himself as God impressed the words on his heart, the effect was staggering.

The prophet reports that he was so shaken by the overwhelming prospect of what he had understood that he convulsed to the depths of his being. His lips quivered, and it seemed as though his very bones were coming apart, perhaps decayed to the marrow. He reeled uncertainly on his feet, for the ground beneath him seemed to undulate incessantly. As Keil observes, “alarm pervades his whole body, belly, and bones.”609 And yet Habakkuk was to experience what Paul later declares: “Whenever I am weak, at that very moment I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).610 Quickly he was flooded with the implications of all that had happened and had been revealed to him. He could take comfort in knowing that although God will chastise His people, the vicious Chaldeans will likewise undergo divine punishment. Further, he understood that what he had prayed for (v. 2) was in keeping with God’s own nature: He was a God of judgment as well as of mercy (cf. Deut. 32:34-43). Therefore, when the day of distress comes for Judah, Habakkuk can rest secure in the assurance that God is in charge of everything, working it all out in accordance with His perfect will. He could also be at peace as the God of justice repays the Chaldean invaders for their crimes against Judah and all humanity (cf. Gen. 12:3; Deut. 30:7; Joel 3:1-3 [HB 4:1-3]; Nah. 1:2; 3:1-7; etc.).

Habakkuk’s new resolve and trust are immediately apparent (vv. 17-18). When the time of trouble comes for Judah, disrupting the productivity of the land and the security of the cattle, Habakkuk will not only remain at peace, resting in the sufficiency of God, but will rejoice through it in Him who alone is his (and Israel’s) Savior.611 The words for “rejoicing*” here represent strong emotions. Habakkuk had used them previously to express his anxiety over the unbridled avarice of the Chaldeans (1:14-15). His choice of them here underscores his repentant heart and triumphant faith. Together they express his resolve not merely to rest in the Lord’s will through everything that would come to pass but to rejoice fully in his saving God. Israel’s covenant Lord was yet on the throne; that meant eventual blessedness for prophet and people alike (cf. Deut. 30:1-10).

Additional Notes

3:16 Several instances of chiasmus are found in vv. 16-19, two of which occur here. Thus “hearing” and “lips” are set chiastically in lines 1 and 2 to emphasize two means of sensory activity. Verse 16 is arranged so that verbs enclose the whole verse. רגז also appears chiastically in lines 1 and 4. This root is a key one in chap. 3, being found twice here and once each in vv. 2 and 7. The last line of v. 16 contains an example of enjambment.

בִּטְנִי (“my inward parts”): the noun בֶּטֶן has several meanings, such as “belly” (KJV), “body” (NKJV, RSV), “womb.” In several places it refers to the personal inner recesses (cf. Job 15:35; 32:18; Prov. 18:8; 20:27, 30; 22:18; 26:22) where a person’s deepest desires lodge (Job 20:20, 23). The NIV rendering “heart,” however, is not inappropriate. The translation given above follows the NASB.

עָלֲלוּ (“quivered”) is supported by the Vg: contremuerunt, “trembled violently,” “quaked.” The LXX “prayer” (cf. Tg. Neb.), which rests on the Aramaic root עְלָא (“pray”), scarcely makes sense in context. It surely is not the sound of the prophet’s own praying that produces the trembling described in the following lines.

יָבוֹא (“came into,” “entered”) is a preterite. The prophet here accommodates himself to the archaic style of the previous poems concerning the theophany.

רָקָב (“decay”) is rendered in the LXX τρόμος (“trembling”; cf. Tg. Neb.). Although some suggest that such an understanding might be related to Arabic raqaba (“observe”) with a derived meaning “fear” (i.e., God),612 it is more likely that the Greek translators are simply {1.258} carrying on the thought that appears in the first and fourth lines. The MT is supported by the Vg putredo (“rottenness”).

†As pointed by the Masoretes, אֲשֶׁר is the relative particle. So construed, it must be related syntactically to the two lines that follow (cf. KJV, NKJV, NASB). But to do so ruins the poetic balance, for it leaves the line with only two words and assigns four words to the next line.613 Accordingly, the consistent 3/3 meter of the verse is upset.

To alleviate the imbalance BHS suggests reading אֲשֻׁרָי (“my steps”), a proposal followed by the RSV. Others simply translate ad sensum, e.g., “my frame” (LXX) or “my legs” (NJB). Taking the noun as the subject of the line, however, necessitates an emendation of the preceding 1st com. sing. verb. Therefore the resolution of the problem adopted here is to retain the consonants of the MT but to repoint the two words in question as אֲשׁוּר אַרְגִּיז (“I experienced a trembling [foot]step614 [beneath me]”) and translate the whole line ad sensum: “And I moved with faltering footsteps.”

יְגוּדֶנּוּ ... אָנוּחַ (“I will rest [during] ... [the people] invading us”): Hiebert follows S. R. Driver, who declares that “this and the next line are most obscure and uncertain, the Hebrew being in parts ambiguous, and the text open to suspicion. . . . The case is one in which it is impossible to speak with confidence.”615 The MT, however, can be explained as it stands. What is not so clear is against whom the coming calamity will be directed: Judahites (KJV, NKJV, NASB) or Chaldeans (NIV, NJB, RSV).

Because of the emotional fervor of the moment, the opening אָנוּחַ has often been considered inappropriate to the context.616 Accordingly the verb has often been taken to mean “wait patiently” (NASB, NIV, NJB, RSV). But this is a sense that it does not bear elsewhere in the MT. Many have suggested emendations such as אֶאָנַח (“I groaned/moaned,” Hiebert, Ward) or אֲחַכֶּה (“I await,” BHS). Nevertheless, if R. L. Harris is correct in his assessment that נוח “signifies not only the absence of movement but being settled in a particular {1.259} place (whether concrete or abstract) with overtones of finality, or (when speaking abstractly) of victory, salvation, etc.,”617 the sense that is needed here is provided.

In the midst of conflict and distress, the prophet rests securely in the knowledge of God’s purposes. It is a rest of the spirit (cf. Isa. 28:2) in full trust in the redeeming God. So construed, the lamed with יוֹם (“day”) and the following phrase is one of specification (“with respect to”)618 or time (“during/at”).619 Thus Habakkuk will be at rest with God as the day of affliction takes its course.

With this understanding, לעלות in the next line can be viewed as a parallel thought: “during the going up” (to war). Although the lamed with עַם (“people”) could be again a lamed of specification, it is best to take the preposition in its usual sense of “direction toward,” here in the hostile sense of “against.”620 יְגוּדֶנּוּ can then be understood as occurring in subordination: “who will invade us.” The verb גּוּד (“invade /attack”621) also occurs with an energic force, as here, in Gen. 49:19, another piece of ancient poetry.622

Habakkuk is thus considering the total picture of distress that is to come upon his nation and the Chaldeans. If one takes the first of the two parallel lines as applying primarily to the Judahites and the second as in asyndetic parataxis with the first so as to dramatize the situation with the Chaldeans, a balance is thereby achieved. Habakkuk will take his rest both during the day of distress for his people and during the judgment of the Chaldeans, Judah’s invaders.623

3:17כִּי (“when/while”): Because v. 17 can be understood as forming a contrast with v. 18, many translations render this particle concessively: “although” (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV). However, the LXX, Vg, and Pesh. treat it causally (“because”), a procedure followed by the NJB (although it renders v. 17 parenthetically).624 The temporal use is probably to be preferred. Thus, when adversity takes {1.260}place around him (v. 17), Habakkuk will put his full confidence in God (v. 18).

תִפְרָח (“has not blossomed”): The verb is once again a preterite in conscious archaizing style. Together with the following suffix-conjugation verbs, it serves as the basis for the prophet’s actions in the next verse.625

The products and resources mentioned in v. 17 were vital to Israel’s economy. In addition, the fig tree and the vine had spiritual significance, for they symbolized the blessing of God upon an obedient people (cf. Hos. 2:12; Amos 4:9 with 1 Kings 4:25 [HB 5:5]; 2 Kings 18:31; see also Ps. 105:33; Isa. 36:16; Jer. 5:17; 8:13; Joel 2:19, 24; Hag. 2:19; Zech. 3:10). Likewise, olive oil and the grain of the field (as well as the cattle) were objects of God’s blessing (cf. Num. 18:12; Deut. 7:13; 11:14; 28:51; 2 Kings 18:32; Jer. 31:12; Joel 2:19; Hag. 1:11). עֹאן and בָּקָר are often used together to represent the totality of cattle, both small and large.626 Thus the failure of all these resources had serious economic and spiritual ramifications.

כִּחֵשׁ (“has failed”): The verb usually means “be disappointing,” “deceive” (cf. NJB). Because the disappointment concerns the failure of the expected produce (cf. Hos. 9:2), the context calls for the meaning “fail,” as recognized by most English translations.

שְׁדֵמוֹח (“fields”): Although the plural is twice used of terraced lands (2 Kings 23:4; Jer. 31:40), it was also employed with grapes and vines in Deut. 32:32; Isa. 16:8, so that “vineyard” is a likely possibility not only in these passages but also in Hab. 3:17. But the following אֹכֶל (“food”) makes a final decision difficult. I have retained the traditional denotation “fields.”

גָּזַר (“be cut off”): I follow the lead of Hiebert in understanding the form in a passive sense.627

מִכְלָה (“[sheep]fold”) is probably a biform of מִכְלָא, although Keil suggests that it is a feminine form contracted from מִכְלָאָה. The MT significance is supported by the Vg and LXXBarb against the LXX βρώσεως (“meat/eating”), a translation probably based upon a conjectured מַאֲכָלָה (cf. Hab. 1:16).{1.261}

בָּרְפָתִים (“in the stalls”): The meaning of this hapax legomenon is assured both from the parallel lines and the ancient versions. Although the prepositions מִן and בְּ occur in parallelism here, they are not being used interchangeably.628

3:18אָגִילָה אֶעְלוֹזָה (“I will rejoice, I will be joyful”): The etymologies of these synonyms could suggest that the former lays stress on the audible singing of God’s praises (cf. Ps. 149:5), whereas the latter implies physical movement (cf. Ps. 2:11). But an examination of their use in contexts in which they are closely associated does not support such a distinction (cf. Pss. 96:11, 12; 149:2, 5; Zeph. 3:14, 17), and no such contrast is apparent here.

2. A Concluding Note Of Praise To The Redeemer (3:19)

Yahweh is my Lord* (and) my strength;

      He makes my feet like those of a deer

      and makes me walk on the heights.*

To the director of music; on my stringed instruments.*

Exegesis and Exposition

Habakkuk closes his prophecy with a climactic tricolon that draws upon the phraseology of the epic cycle that had so greatly affected him. He declares that Yahweh is his Lord and strength (cf. Ex. 15:2). The order is significant. Whatever strength he has he owes to the one who is his strength; but basic to everything is the fact that Yahweh is his Lord and his Master, the center of his life.

Habakkuk’s use of divine titles reflects his spiritual journey. God’s prophet had entertained several doubts. A number of matters concerning God’s working and the life of faith had haunted him. Addressing God as the covenant Lord of Israel ( יהוה YHWH), he had carried these problems to Him with heavy heart (1:2-4). When the Lord had answered his uncertainties in a way that left him somewhat more perplexed (1:5-11), Habakkuk reminded God (1:12) that He was not only Israel’s covenant Lord (YHWH) but “my God ( אֱלֹהַי, áe†lo„hay), my Holy One ( קְדֹשִי, qeŒdo„sî).” The divine titles reminded God that, though He was the God of all things, His primary attribute is that of holiness. Therefore, although He might have the power and authority to send a {1.262}nation like the Chaldeans, would it be just for a holy God to use so unholy an instrument to punish His people (1:12-2:1)?

In reporting the Lord’s answer to his second perplexity, Habakkuk again used the covenant designation YHWH (2:2). That response had made plain to Habakkuk that the Lord truly is in control of all history. Nevertheless, he uses human agency and institutions to accomplish His purposes. In so doing the distinction between the wicked on the one hand and the righteous who live by faith on the other becomes clear (2:4). Habakkuk learned that even the foremost power of the world is subject to God. Indeed, Israel’s covenant Lord is the God of all people and even now is in His holy Temple to receive their acquiescence and adoration (2:20).

While the Lord’s answer was satisfying to Habakkuk so that he appreciated the statement relative to the principles of God’s just operations in the world, he was yet concerned for his people. Would Judah’s chastisement be too severe for her to bear? Would an omnipotent God be too harsh in His punishment? Habakkuk pleaded with the Lord to show mercy amid the coming judgment. In so doing he once again employed the title YHWH (3:2). Much like Job (Job 38-41), what Habakkuk needed was a clear perception of how God acted. This was supplied to him through his consideration of the epic material relative to the Exodus (3:3-15). There he saw God in all His might ( אֱלוֹהַ, áe†lo‚ah) and yet in His holiness ( קָדוֹשׁ, qa„do‚sŒ, 3:3). It was He who delivered His people from the might of Egypt and led them to the land of promise (3:3-7). He is Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel (3:8), and as such He is Israel’s Redeemer and victor (3:8-15). Yahweh, Israel’s Lord and the judge of all mankind, is in charge of earth’s history. He also has a righteous concern for His covenant people. Accordingly He can be counted on to deal properly with Judah’s case and to fulfill His age-old promises to them.

The consideration of God in action was enough for Habakkuk:

Habakkuk, though he did achieve a degree of intellectual understanding, came to terms with God in the experience of theophany. Though he began this encounter in dialogue and rational argument, the real turning point in his relationship with God was the result of a vision of the Living God.629

Gone were his fears, doubts, and perplexities. He would trust in Yahweh and rejoice in his saving God ( יִשְׁעִי אֱלֹהֵי, áe†lo„he‚ yisŒàî, 3:18). Israel’s Redeemer was his, the Master ( אָדוֹן, áa„do‚n) from whom alone he gained his strength (3:19). So near to God does Habakkuk now feel that in a bold simile he likens his spiritual climb to that of a hind {1.263}swiftly ascending to the mountaintops and gracefully gliding over them.

Victory at last! Israel’s Lord (YHWH) was truly Habakkuk’s own, his leader and guide. God’s prophet had walked a precarious path. But lest we condemn Habakkuk too readily, we need to remember that the Lord did not do so; He merely corrected him. Ultimately Habakkuk’s implanted faith bore spiritual fruit. The prophecy of Habakkuk thus not only reminds its readers of the central principles of life (2:4, 20) and of the final triumph of good through God’s control of history (3:3-15) but also provides important insight into a believer’s personal relationship with his God. When times of doubt and discouragement come, as they inevitably do, the believer needs to come to God, as did Habakkuk, and share his concerns with Him. Like Habakkuk, he needs to come to God’s Word and get a fresh glimpse of who and what God is and so come to a place of renewed trust in the one who alone is truly God and therefore sufficient for all of life. May Habakkuk’s test of faith and triumphant joy in his saving Lord be an inspiration and example to all who must travel life’s road!

Additional Notes

3:19אֲדֹנָי (“the Lord”): The translation given above (“my Lord”) follows several manuscripts of the LXX and the NJB. It involves no change of consonants of the MT and maintains the spirit of the Exodus recorded in Ex. 15:2.

If a copula is to be supplied between אֲדֹנָי and חֵיִֹלי, it is better to retain אֲדֹנָי as a case of apposition: “Yahweh, the Lord, is my strength” (cf. RSV). The translation suggested above has the advantage of harmonizing well with the fact that other expressions in the verse are also drawn from the ancient epic corpus, “Yahweh . . . is my strength” being indebted to Ps. 18:32 (HB 18:33) and the next two lines to Ps. 18:33 (HB 18:34). Further, though not formed with the same verbs, the notice of exuitant praise found in v. 18 reflects Ex. 15:3, and חַיִל (v. 19) is found in Ex. 15:4 (though probably with a different meaning). Habakkuk’s closing note of praise is thus filled with imagery drawn from the epic songs of the Exodus event.

The use of the divine name יהוה here is probably in conscious imitation of its stanza-initial position in the two ancient poems (vv. 3, 8). In addition, it serves as a stitch-word to the previous subunit (vv. 16-18) and as a bookending device with the opening portion of the chapter (v. 2).

†The usual sense of “on the heights” seems to be demanded for בָּמוֹתַי rather than seeing here the frequently suggested (e.g., Albright, Hiebert) association with Ugaritic bmt (“back”—i.e., of the vanquished foe). The form occurs elsewhere in the ancient poetry of Israel {1.264}(Ps. 18:33 [HB 18:34] = 2 Sam. 22:34, where it occurs with עָמַד [“stand”]); it is thus doubtless a frozen form based on an old genitive case.

The sentiment of the line is found in two other pieces of ancient Hebrew poetry (where, however, the Ugaritic meaning may be suitable): Deut. 32:13 and Deut. 33:13 (where it occurs, as here, with the verb דָּרַךְ). Apparently the use of דָּרַךְ/ עָמַד with בָּמוֹת was part of an ancient stock phraseology for praising God for His victorious intervention on behalf of His people, even though the precise meaning of the phrase depended on the context. יַדְרִכֵנִי thus not only has important literary associations but also serves as a stitch-word to the previous subsection and provides a suitable climax to the prophet’s spiritual renewal.

†The closing subscription is one of several musical notations in chap. 3 (vv. 1, 3, 9, 13) that give instructions for the possible use of Habakkuk’s prayer psalm in public worship. While the term שִׁגְיֹנוֹת in the heading (3:1) appears to be an indication of the musical setting and the repeated selah (vv. 3, 9, 13) a note relative to a musical interlude, these final instructions are intended for the director of music (cf. 1 Chron. 15:21-22; 2 Chron. 34:12). Craigie is of the opinion that all three terms indicate that such pieces of music were part of the standard repertoire available for congregational worship.630

The musical experience of ancient Israel was rich and varied. Therefore, the Temple worship was highly organized (cf. 1 Chron. 6:31-48; 15:21-22; 16:41-42; 23:5; 25:1-3; etc.). Selected instruments, especially the harp and the lyre, were a prominent part of such music (1 Chron. 15:21; 25:1; Pss. 92:3; 150:3-4).631 Thus it is not surprising that the term for “stringed instruments” found here also appears in the heading of several psalms (Pss. 4, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76)632 and is found as a singular noun in Ps. 77:6 (HB 77:7), which also contains early epic material. Keil suggests that the personal pronoun on the term here means that Habakkuk

himself will accompany it with his own playing, from which it has been justly inferred that he was qualified, according to the arrangements of the Israelitish worship, to take part in the public performance of such pieces of music as were suited for public worship, and therefore belonged to the Levites who were entrusted with the conduct of the musical performance of the temple.633{1.265}

Habakkuk’s joyous spiritual triumph evidenced in his proclamation יהוה of as Master of his life is reminiscent of Charles Wesley’s well-known hymn:

Rejoice, the Lord is King:

Your Lord and King adore!

Rejoice, give thanks, and sing

And triumph evermore:

Lift up your heart, lift up your voice!

Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!634

Excursus on Habakkuk 3

As noted in the Introduction to Habakkuk, the third chapter exhibits striking differences from the preceding two.635 These factors, coupled with the presence of several musical notations (vv. 1, 3, 9, 13, 19), make clear that with chap. 3 one is dealing with material that is unique and constitutes a self-contained pericope. This observation may account for its exclusion from 1QpHab.

From a literary perspective it is likewise obvious that chap. 3 has some distinct internal differences. Thus vv. 2, 16-19 are composed in the first person and recount the prophet’s own experiences and feelings, whereas vv. 3-15 are written in the third and second persons and contain epic themes drawn from the era of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt and settlement in the land of Canaan. Several authors have noted that all this points to a deliberate literary methodology, vv. 2, 16-19 forming an enclosing framework for the psalmic material that intervenes. Thus Hiebert points out that “v 2 and vv 16-19 provide a literary framework for the theophany in vv 3-15” that “is itself composed of two distinct units, vv 3-7 and 8-15.”636{1.268}

That such is the case can be seen from several supporting data: (1) The ideas of hearing and fearing found in v. 2 are echoed in v. 16. (2) The root רגז (“tremble”) plays a prominent part in vv. 2 and 16. (3) The divine name Yahweh is used in the opening and closing sections of the chapter and is strategically placed so as to bookend the whole composition (vv. 2, 18-19). (4) The twin themes of God’s awesome power and His boundless grace, though punctuating the entire chapter, are particularly featured in the framework portions.637 All these elements are woven together by Habakkuk to demonstrate his initial concern (reflected in his opening petition, v. 2) and his satisfaction due to his perception of the character and work of God (vv. 3-15), given in his concluding testimony of praise (vv. 16-19). The material portrayed in the victory ode that forms the central section of the chapter (vv. 3-15) is suited to meet Habakkuk’s own need so that, while the chapter has distinguishable units, it nonetheless demonstrates a unity of perspective.

The psalm of vv. 3-15, although it picks up themes that are present in v. 2 and carries them through to the concluding section of vv. 16-19,638 is nevertheless distinct from those enclosing units. Particularly notable are (1) the difference in divine names, moving from Yahweh (v. 2) to Eloah and Holy One (v. 3), (2) the replacing of first-person verbs with largely third-person narrative structure, and (3) the shift of viewpoint from the prophet’s fear generated by his perception of God’s activity (v. 2) to a consideration of God Himself in His appearance (vv. 3-4), in His actions (vv. 5-7, 8-10a, 15), and in their effect (vv. 10b-11) in delivering God’s people from their enemies (vv. 12-15).

Most distinctive of all, however, is that, while vv. 2, 16-19 contain themes and phrases that may be indebted to the material contained in vv. 3-15, they are written in a poetic style largely representative of the classical language and themes of the Psalter and prophets (cf. v. 2 with Pss. 44:1 [HB 44:2]; 85:4-7 [HB 85:5-8]; 102:12-13; Isa. 54:8; v. 16 with Ps. 37:7; v. 17 with Jer. 5:17; Joel 1:10- 12; Amos 4:9; vv. 18-19 with Pss. 27:1; 46:1-5 [HB 46:2-6]; 97:12). On the other hand, vv. 3-15 reflect Israel’s earliest poetry (cf. v. 3 with Judg. 5:4; Ps. 68:7 [HB 68:8]; v. 5 with Deut. 33:2-3; vv. 10- 11 with Judg. 5:4-5; Pss. 18:7-15 [HB 18:8-16]; 68:7-8 [HB 68:8-9]; 77:16-19 [HB 77:17-20]; 144:5-6; vv. {1.269}12-15 with Ex. 15:6-10, 14-18).639 In addition, as noted in the introduction under Literary Context, this section is filled with archaic grammatical elements, poetic devices, and themes such as that of the chariot warrior baring his bow.640

Though vv. 3-15 belong as a whole to a common early linguistic and literary milieu, they show some internal distinctions. Two compositions are present, each of which makes its own contribution to the corpus of the Exodus epic. Habakkuk 3:3-7 describes God’s leading of His heavenly and earthly hosts from the south in an awe-inspiring theophany. Habakkuk 3:8-15 constitutes a victory song commemorating the conquest itself and points to the basis of that success in the Exodus event, particularly in the victory at the Red Sea.

Moreover, each poem is marked by literary features that give it its own distinctive integrity. Thus, both are bounded by bookending devices forming an inclusio, vv. 3-7 with geographical names that appear in the poem’s opening and closing verses, and vv. 8-15 with the motifs of sea, water, and horses (vv. 8, 15). Each poem has its own internal structure. The first makes frequent use of the waw coordinator to bind its individual cola and words together and employs tricola to end its stanzas (vv. 3-4, 5-7). The second makes no use of the waw coordinator at all but connects its stanzas via variation in word order (v. 12) and the employment of stanza-beginning (v. 8) or-ending (v. 11) tricola.

Additional prominent features of the first poem include the use of stitching themes and words to unite its two subunits (vv. 3-4, 5-7) such as coming/going (vv. 3, 5) and earth (vv. 3, 6), and the heaping up of s sounds (11 instances) for dramatic effect. Further characteristics of the second poem include the continued use of s sounds for effect (26 cases), a progression in theme from that of the divine warrior’s preparations (vv. 8-9) and actions in the natural world (vv. 10-11) to His activities in delivering His people (vv. 12-15), the unique placement of v. 15 so as to combine the themes of deliverance and power while forming an inclusio with the opening tricolon of the poem (v. 8), and the presence of key words and themes that stitch its two stanzas together: anger (vv. 8, 12) and salvation (vv. 9, 11, 13), earth (vv. 10, 12) and water (vv. 8, 10, 15), horses (vv. 8, 10) and weapons (vv. 9, 14), {1.270}and the repetition of verbs of going out or proceeding (vv. 11, 12, 13, 14).

Habakkuk’s psalm of 3:3-15, then, is a weaving together of two poems remarkably well suited for each other. They contain complementary features, such as common items of alliteration and assonance (e.g., the s sound) and several key themes and words such as God’s actions in the natural world (vv. 4-6, 8-11, 15), stress on the brilliance of God’s glory (vv. 4, 11), use of cosmic weaponry (vv. 5, 9, 14), emphasis on earth and nations (vv. 6, 10, 12), and reference to trembling (vv. 6, 7, 10) and going out or proceeding (vv. 3, 11-14). Hiebert points out that the second poem is thus the “logical sequel to the description of his [God’s] departure from his sanctuary flanked by his military attendants” in the first poem.641 He also calls attention syntactically to the consistent employment of alternating suffix- and prefix-conjugation verbs in both poems.642

It is clear, then, that Habakkuk 3 is composed of four sections, the double-psalmed central portions of which are distinctive and drawn from a corpus of much older literature.643 From a literary standpoint the two poetic compositions found in vv. 3-15 belong to the genre of epic literature and rehearse the dramatic happenings that made up the Exodus. Much as in the other literary traditions in the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures, the Hebrew people had an epic cycle, the remnants of which can be found in those poems that sing of the era and events of Israel’s Exodus. All of these poetic pieces contain not only common themes but also the same grammatical and literary features. To Hab. 33-15 may be added Ex. 15:1-18; Deut. 33:1-3; Judg. 5:4-5; Pss. 18:7-15 (HB 18:8-16); 68:7-8 (HB 68:8-9); 77:16-19 (HB 77:17-20); 144:5-6. Two of these passages, Hab. 3:3-15 and Ex. 15:1-18, contain extended portrayals of the Exodus experience.

Like Habakkuk’s psalm, Ex. 15:1-18 gives a detailed discussion of the era of the Exodus, first singing of the Exodus itself and of Yahweh’s victory at the Red Sea (vv. 1-10) and then praising the Lord for His divine leading, first to Mount Sinai (vv. 11-13) and then proleptically from Sinai to the Promised Land (vv. 14-18).{1.271}

The two poems that compose Hab. 3:3-15 add considerable information to this event and in so doing employ epic themes and style.644 Thus there is the central focus on a hero: God Himself. Moreover, in the first poem (vv. 3-7) the poet relates the account of an epic journey, God’s leading of His people from the southland toward Canaan. He calls attention to God’s command of nature in theophany (vv. 3-4), His special companions (v. 5), His earthshaking power (v. 6), and the effect of all this on the inhabitants of the land (v. 7).

The second poem (vv. 8-15) transcends the bounds of the movement from Egypt to the Jordan (cf. Ps. 114:3-5), the phraseology being best understood as including God’s miraculous acts in the conquest period as well. God’s victories at the end of the Exodus account are rehearsed first (vv. 8-11), possibly reflecting such deeds as the triumph at the Red Sea (Ex. 15) and at the Jordan (Josh. 3-4), as well as the victories at the Wadi Kishon (Judg. 4-5) and Gibeon (Josh. 10). The poet then directs his hearers’ attention to the victory that gave Israel its deliverance and eventual conquest of Canaan: the triumph in Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (vv. 12-15).

Habakkuk 3:8-15 is thus a victory psalm, a fact commensurate with the heroic tone of epic literature. As such it partakes of the same general themes that are found in other victory songs from the ancient Hebrew epic cycle. In his excellent study concerning Ex. 15:1-18 and Judges 5, A. J. Hauser isolates five key motifs that the early Hebrew victory songs have in common: (1) Yahweh as the divine hero who comes to Israel’s deliverance; (2) a description of Yahweh together with action-packed scenes of God’s victory; (3) the use of water imagery; (4) the mocking of the enemy; and (5) the defeat of the enemy described in terms of his fall.645 Some of these themes can be found in Hab. 3:3-7, and all five occur in Hab. 3:8-15: (1) vv. 8, 13; (2) vv. 8-15; (3) vv. 8-11, 15; (4) v. 14; (5) vv. 13b-14.

Granted the epic nature and origin of Hab. 3:3-15, can the purpose for Habakkuk’s incorporation of ancient poetic material into his composition be seen? Does the third chapter of his prophecy have a unity of perspective? The answer to both questions is affirmative. That there is unity in the chapter may be seen in (1) the mention in every stanza of God, the central figure of the chapter (vv. 2 [bis], 3, 8, 18, 19), and (2) the presence of key words such as רגז (vv. 2, 7, 16 [bis]) {1.272}and themes such as going/proceeding (vv. 3, 11-14, 16, 19), salvation/deliverance/mercy (vv. 2, 8, 13, 18), wrath/anger/fear (vv. 2, 6-7, 8, 12, 16), and the judgment of nations (vv. 6-7, 12-14, 16). Hiebert calls particular attention to the twin motifs “central to the poem: the hearing about the acts of God, and the response of great awe which this hearing evokes” and the prevalence of the “two characteristics of theophany, its gracious intent and its awful power to disrupt and destroy.”646

When one considers also the shape given to the chapter by the superscription, which proclaims the composition to be a te†pilla‚, a prayer of praise to God that can be set to music and utilized in worship (see introduction), the question of unity is settled. Indeed, all this confirms Habakkuk’s literary artistry in blending ancient epic material into his prayer psalm as a statement of exaltation to God in the midst of an opening cry and petition (v. 2) and closing affirmation of trust and praise (vv. 16-19).

It is evident, too, that the final unified composition was well suited to Habakkuk’s purposes and personal needs. Habakkuk had had his perplexities resolved in the revelation of God’s intentions for the nations and the divine admonition for silence. The consideration of God’s actions caused him to contemplate the nature of the God who had been Israel’s Redeemer all along. After Habakkuk pleads for mercy in the midst of wrath (v. 2) and reviews God’s past record (vv. 3-15), his reverential trust in God is renewed. Israel’s great Redeemer is his also. He will trust in such a one no matter what happens (vv. 16-19). He who had acted both in judgment and deliverance for Israel in the past can be counted on to do so once again, both for Israel and His prophet.

The same power at whose manifestation the entire cosmos (vv 6, 9-10), nature (v 17), the peoples (v 7), and the poet himself (vv 2, 16) tremble in awe discloses itself as merciful (v 2), as a source of joy and occasion for praise (v 18), and as deliverer of salvation to the cosmos (vv 13-15), to his people (v 13), and to the poet himself (v 19).647

Thus Habakkuk’s final prayer of praise to Israel’s Redeemer stands not only as a unified composition but also as the climax to the whole prophecy.

228 Jewish tradition (Seder Olam) associated Habakkuk with Manasseh’s reign, a position followed by many Jewish scholars, including David Kimchi. For helpful discussions of the background and setting of the book, see R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), pp. 922-36; Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction, trans. P. R. Ackroyd (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), pp. 417-23.

229 Details relative to the book’s compilation will be considered with the discussion of unity in the section dealing with literary context.

230 So G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1962), p. 65. See also Menahem Mansoor, The Dead Sea Scrolls, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), p. 93. H. Hummel (The Word Becoming Flesh [St. Louis: Concordia, 1979], p. 345), however, suggests the Hellenistic party or the Seleucids.

231 For details as to the historical background of the seventh century B.C. See the discussion in the Introduction to Nahum and the exposition of Hab. 1:2-4.

232 See below under Literary Context.

233 For details, see the discussion in Harrison, Introduction, p. 931.

234 For a valuable discussion of the additions to Daniel, see Bruce M. Metzger, ed., The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha, expanded ed. (New York: Oxford U., 1977), pp. 209-18.

235 Because of his persistent dialogue with God, Habakkuk was called “the wrestler” by Jerome, a view that Luther later shared.

236 For the text, see Alfred Rahlfs, ed., Septuaginta, 6th ed. (Stuttgart: Würt-tembergische Bibelanstalt, n.d.), 2:936-41. In the later Christian account found in The Lives of the Prophets, Habakkuk is said to have come from the tribe of Simeon.

237 Ralph L. Smith (Micah-Malachi, WBC [Waco, Tex.: Word, 1984], p. 93) seems inclined to such a position: “One manuscript of Bel and the Dragon says that Habakkuk was the son of Jesus of the tribe of Levi. This later tradition that Habakkuk was of the tribe of Levi, along with the fact that he is one of only three men in the OT to be called a prophet in the superscription of his book, and the fact that he is presented as a prophet in the musical chapter (3:1) of his book, suggests that he may have been a Levite and a professional or temple prophet.”

238 P. Humbert (Problèmes du livre d’Habacuc [Neuchatel: Secretariat de L’Universite, 1944]) works out the details of the book so as to show its origin among the cultic prophets of the Temple in seventh century B.C. Jerusalem. J. Lindblom (Prophecy in Ancient Israel [Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1962], p. 254) asserts that Habakkuk “was certainly a cultic prophet at the temple in Jerusalem.”

239 Even demonstrating that Habakkuk was a Levite and connected with the Temple worship at Jerusalem would not validate the current opinion of critical scholarship that finds the remnants of cultic ritual and liturgy almost ubiquitously in connection with OT prophecy. Hummel (The Word, p. 164) cautions: “In general, it is agreed on all sides today that in this respect the form critics greatly overstated their case, but they did establish that cult and prophecy often operated in tandem.... If the normative Israelite cult was Mosaic, and if prophecy was reformatory, the prophets could scarcely have been at total loggerheads with priestdom.... Subsequent research has confirmed that the prophets certainly speak in the temple in cultic contexts even if they held no office from the cult with which most of their audience was perfectly familiar.”

240 Walter E. Rast (“Justification by Faith,” Cur TM 10 [1983]: 169-75) calls attention to Habakkuk’s employment of the traditional forms of lament (1:24, 12-17) followed by response (1:5-11; 2:14) and suggests that Habakkuk’s technique may well anticipate that of the author of 1QpHab

241 See the chart that accompanies the exposition of Hab. 2:6-8.

242 For the concept of stitch-wording, see Richard D. Patterson, “Of Bookends, Hinges, and Hooks: Literary Clues to the Arrangement of Jeremiah’s Prophecies,” WTJ 51 (1989): 117-18.

243 W. F. Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” in Studies in Old Testament Prophecy Dedicated to T. H. Robinson, ed. H. H. Rowley (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1950), p. 10. Albright also suggests the presence of an old energic form with emphatic ל in Hab. 3:6-7: לתחתאו , “(eternal orbits) were shattered.” E. Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 114-15, follows the lead of K. Elliger in translating the troublesome crux as the Ugaritic word for destruction preceded by the preposition ל .

244 For enclitic -m, see M. Pope, “Ugaritic Enclitic -m,” JCS 5 (1951): 123-28; H. D. Hummel, “Enclitic MEM in Early Northwest Semitic, Especially Hebrew,” JBL 76 (1957): 85-106; M. Dahood, Psalms, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), 3:408-9.

245 For the bearing of Ugaritic research upon biblical studies, see P. C. Craigie, Ugarit and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), pp. 67-90, and his extensive bibliography on pp. 107-9.

246 Theodore Hiebert (God of My Victory [Atlanta: Scholars, 1986], p. 26) also remarks that “The image of the chariot warrior baring his bow corresponds with the practice of warfare in the Late Bronze and early Iron Ages as it has been reconstructed by historians and archaeologists. The bow by this time had become the principal weapon of the chariot warrior, and chariots were outfitted with bow cases and quivers to carry weapons not in use. The description of the divine warrior in Hab. 3:8-9 mounting his chariot, baring his bow (drawing it from the bow case), and firing the arrows drawn from the quiver ... is what one would expect from an Israelite poet drawing images from the concrete world of human conflict with which the poet was familiar.” See further W. F. Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” pp. 8-9; W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969), pp. 1-52, 183-93; U. Cassuto, “Chapter III of Habakkuk and the Ras Shamra Texts,” in Biblical and Oriental Studies, trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975), 2:3-15, 16-59, 69-109; S. Rummel, “Narrative Structures in the Ugaritic Texts,” RSP 3:233-84; F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1973), pp. 91-194.

247 See the Excursus on Habakkuk 3.

248 The psalm in Hab. 3:3-15 thus contains a sketch of what may have constituted an early Hebrew epic commemorating God’s mighty prowess in delivering His people from Egypt and bringing them into the land of promise. The full epic, though preserved in bits and pieces in various portions of the OT, has not been inscripturated. See further Richard D. Patterson, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” GTJ 8 (1987): 163-94. The author wishes to thank the editors of the Grace Theological Journal for their permission to quote freely from that article, which has been utilized extensively for the present discussion as well as for relevant points in the exposition of Hab. 3:3-15 and the Excursus on Habakkuk 3.

249 M. P. Nilsson (The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology [New York: Norton, 1932], p. 19) points out that “in the epical language of all peoples occurs a store of stock expressions, constantly recurring phrases, half and whole verses and even verse complexes; and repetitions are characteristic of the epic style.”

250 For details, see Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” pp. 2, 9. See also W. S. Prinsloo, “Die boodskap van die boek Habakuk,” Nederduits Gereformeerde Teologiese Tydskrif 20 (1979): 146-51, who, however, relates the message of the book to a denunciation of the Assyrians.

251 Eissfeldt, Introduction, p. 420.

252 For details, see ibid., pp. 417-19. For a classic treatment of the liberal tradition, see W. Hayes Ward, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1912), pp. 3-6.

253 R. L. Smith (Micah-Malachi, p. 94) points out that such older critics as A. B. Davidson and S. R. Driver returned to this view. He observes that this position is especially attractive to those who view Habakkuk as a cultic prophet.

254 See W. H. Brownlee, The Text of Habakkuk in the Ancient Commentary from Qumran, JBL Monograph XI (Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1959), p. 92.

255 Eissfeldt, Introduction, p. 421. Millar Burrows (Burrows on the Dead Sea Scrolls [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978], 1:321-22) observes: “Many scholars have long believed that the third chapter was not a part of the original book of Habakkuk. Its absence from the scroll is consistent with this theory but does not prove it. It does not even prove that the third chapter was unknown to the Judean covenanters. Being a psalm, it does not lend itself to such use as is made of the other chapters. It is even possible that the commentary was never finished.” See also Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), p. 264.

256 Carl E. Armerding, “Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985),7:522.

257 P. C. Craigie, The Old Testament (Nashville: Abingdon, 1986), p. 196. See also Harrison, Introduction, p. 93.

258 In this regard, see the helpful comments of C. H. Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books (Chicago: Moody, 1986), p. 183: “Habakkuk was bold enough to broach the subject of divine justice. Whether or not he was acquainted with Job, he nevertheless took the issue that Job had raised and probed on a personal level and dealt with it on an international plane. There is a distinct difference, however. Job defended his innocence and moral integrity, whereas Habakkuk admitted the sins of Judah.”

259 The need for a balanced perspective with regard to the place of government is ably defended by Robert Culver, Toward a Biblical View of Civil Government (Chicago: Moody, 1974), pp. 156-58.

260 Hummel, The Word, p. 347.

261 For helpful insight into the discussion of warfare, see P. C. Craigie, The Problem of War in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978).

262 See in this regard the helpful remarks of W. S. LaSor, David Allan Hubbard, and F. W. Bush, Old Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), p. 454: “Habakkuk neither used his questions to shield himself from moral responsibilities nor shunned God’s claims upon his life.... God’s revelation of himself laid [to rest] the ghost of the prophet’s doubts and gave birth to a finer faith; the redeeming God had used his questions as a means of grace to draw Habakkuk closer to himself.”

263 See Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 10.

264 Würthwein, Text of the Old Testament, p. 146. Brownlee (The Text of Habakkuk, pp. 109-12) lists nineteen of these as major variants.

265 Harrison, Introduction, p. 938.

266 Although the list of authors who have worked on this portion of Scripture is filled with the names of many prestigious scholars, a critical consensus as to its reading and interpretation is far from being reached. The difficulty of the text has defied the efforts of exegetes of all theological persuasions.

267 While Würthwein (Text of the Old Testament, p. 15) suggests a first-century date for the standardization of the MT, F. M. Cross (“The Text Behind the Text of the Hebrew Bible,” Bible Review 1 [1985]: 12-25) is not so sure. The second-century OT Hebrew manuscripts found at Wadi Murabba’at, however, are distinctly MT. See further F. F. Bruce, Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), pp. 64-66.

268 Würthwein, Text of the Old Testament, pp. 17, 113-14. F. F. Bruce (Biblical Exegesis in the Qumran Texts [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959], p. 12) cautions that the author of 1QpHab may not have been so reliable in his handling of the text: “Along with this atomizing exegesis there goes at times an interesting treatment of textual variants. Where one reading suits the commentator’s purpose better than another, he will use it, although he may show in the course of his comment that he is aware of an alternative reading. He has been suspected of deliberately altering the text here and there in order to make the application more pointed, but the suspicion does not amount to proof.”

269 R. L. Smith, Micah-Malachi, p. 96.

270 See Bullock, Prophetic Books, pp. 34-36; M. F. Unger, Introductory Guide to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1951), pp. 53-78; R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969), pp. 180-95.

271 Armerding, Habakkuk, 7:496. Harrison (Introduction, p. 271) includes the words of the pronouncement of the second century B.C. baraitha contained in the Talmudic tractate Baba Bathra: “The order of the prophets is Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the Twelve (Minor Prophets).” For full discussion of the early canonicity of all of the prophets, see Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), pp. 138-80.

272 See, e.g., A Jepsen, “ חָזָה,”TDOT 4:283-84.

273 For the prophet’s more active role in seeing the divinely revealed vision, see R. D. Culver, “ חָזָה,” TWOT 1:274-75; G. Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), pp. 215-18; C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 2:9; M. F. Unger, “Vision,” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, ed. Everett F. Harrison (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960), p. 545. The position taken here recognizes the fact that in time the prophet’s use of חָזָה came to mean something like “received.”

Isaiah’s prophecy, for example, contains a great deal more than visionary material, yet the whole is termed “that which he saw” (Isa. 1:1). Likewise, the noun חִזָּיוֹן (“vision”) appears to mean not just “things seen” but “revelation,” however it was received (cf. 2 Sam. 7:17). Accordingly the translation “saw” given here is to be understood in a neutral sense. Nevertheless, the choice of this root to describe the prophet’s role in the process of divine revelation may preserve the fact that at times seeing played a major role (cf. Isa. 6:1; see also the exposition of Nah. 3:2).

274 See further R. D. Patterson and H. J. Austel, “1, 2 Kings,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 4:277-80.

275 See also my remarks in the Introduction to Habakkuk in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, ed. W. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), pp.666-67.

276 R. D. Culver, Toward a Biblical View of Civil Government (Chicago: Moody, 1974), pp. 93-94.

277 In a dramatic turn God is at times represented as calling out to people (Isa. 66:4), sometimes to those who only turn away from Him. Tragically, 11 times in the book of Jeremiah it is reported that God earnestly sought to meet with His disobedient people only to find that they did not keep their appointed time of communion.

278 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:55.

279 Victor Hamilton, “ שָׁוַע,” TWOT 2:911-12.

280 See BDB, p. 1002.

281 T. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia, 1956), p. 318.

282 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:57.

283 Herbert Marks, “The Twelve Prophets,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1987), p. 219.

284 J. G. Harris, “The Laments of Habakkuk’s Prophecy,” EvQ 45 (1973): 24-25.

285 W. Leslau, Ethiopic and South Arabic Contributions to the Hebrew Lexicon, University of California Publications on Semitic Philology XX (Los Angeles: U. of California, 1958), p. 18.

286 For the employment of this adjective in Judg. 5:6 where it is used of “circuitous routes,” see R. D. Patterson, “The Song of Deborah,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), pp. 127, 131.

287 For the use of this adjective in earlier Canaanite literature (= Ugaritic àqltn), see C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1965), no. 67: 1:2. See also John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), pp. 490-91; E. J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 2:233-35.

288 See W. S. LaSor, “Merodach-Baladan,” ISBE 3:325-26.

289 See further the Introduction to Nahum; see also Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker 1990), p. 55.

290 See further A. Leo Oppenheim, “Chaldeans,” IDB 1:549-50; R. D. Wilson, Studies in the Book of Daniel (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), 1:319-66; H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness That Was Babylon (New York: Hawthorn, 1962), pp. 140-53.

291 Even E. B. Pusey (The Minor Prophets [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953], 2:165-69) finds it difficult to choose between them.

292 God’s reply to Habakkuk’s charge is reminiscent of the words attributed to Aeschylus (Fr. Incert., 4):

Ορᾷ δίκη σ᾿ ἄναυδος οὐχ ὁρωμένη

῞Εύδοντι καὶ στείχοντι χαὶ καθημένῳ,

῾Εξῆς δ᾿ ὀπάζει δόχμιον, ἄλλου᾿ ὕστερον.

Οὐδ᾿ ἐγκαλύπτει νὺξ κακῶς εἰργασμένα·

῞Οτι δ᾿ἂν ποιῇς, νόμιζ᾿ ὁρᾷν δεινὸν τινα.

Justice, silent and unseen, sees you

While you sleep, while you go on your way, and while you sit down,

She stays next to you, either beside or else behind you.

Night cannot conceal the evil things that have been done;

Whatever you do, consider that there is One to be feared who sees it!

293 D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (London: The Trustees of the British Museum, 1956), pp. 61, 67. The composition and campaigning efficiency of the Assyrian army have often been described; see, e.g., H. W. F. Saggs, The Might That Was Assyria (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984), pp. 250-68. Long years of contact with the Assyrians must have served the Chaldeans well in terms of military knowledge. L. Delaporte (Mesopotamia, trans. V. Gordon Childe [New York: Barnes and Noble, 1970], pp. 73-74) is doubtless correct in saying that “the Babylonian army must have been organized very like the Assyrian army in the last days of the Sargonids’ empire.”

294 See the additional note on Zeph. 3:3.

295 The Chaldeans’ guilt in abusing their divine mission is reminiscent of Jehu’s self-serving accomplishment of God’s will (2 Kings 9-10), a mission duly condemned by Hosea (Hos. 1:4). Keil (Minor Prophets, 1:41) appropriately observes: “In itself, i.e. regarded as the fulfilment of the divine command, the extermination of the family of Ahab was an act by which Jehu could not render himself criminal. But even things desired or commanded by God may become crimes in the case of the performer of them, when he is not simply carrying out the Lord’s will as the servant of God but suffers himself to be actuated by evil and selfish motives, that is to say, when he abuses the divine command, and makes it the mere cloak for the lusts of his own evil heart.”

296 For details concerning the use of the subject pronoun with a participle, see A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1901), par. 100a; GKC par. 106s.

297 See R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 2d ed. (Toronto: U. of Toronto, 1976), par. 446, 515.

298 For asseverative kaph, see R. Gordis, “The Asseverative Kaph in Ugaritic and Hebrew,” JAOS 63 (1943): 176-78; Williams, Syntax, par. 261,449; M. Dahood, Psalms, AB (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1970), 3:402-6.

299 R. Smith, Micah-Malachi, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1984), p. 100. For various suggestions as to the alleviation of the difficulty, see W. H. Ward, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1911), pp. 9-11. For further discussion, see J. R. Blue, “Habakkuk,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Scripture Press, 1985), 1:1510.

300 Ward, Habakkuk, p. 9.

301 See, e.g., the discussions in A. R. Hulst, Old Testament Translation Problems (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960), pp. 248-49; Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (New York: United Bible Societies, 1980), 5:352-53.

302 The translation given here is thus similar to that of the note in the Traduction Oecumenique de la Bible (Edition integrale, Ancien Testament, Paris, 1975), “la direction de leur face vers l’avant...”

303 The Babylonian kings often boasted of the taking of captives and great booty; see the several texts collected by Wiseman, Chaldaean Kings, pp. 51-57.

304 ANET, p. 38.

305 Ward, Habakkuk, p. 11.

306 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:59.

307 This explicative particle is related to the Arabic d, Epigraphic South Arabic d/ dt, Ugaritic, Aramaic/Syriac d, Old Aramaic, Phoenician z(u/i), and Geez za. The case for its use in Hebrew is well established, as demonstrated by W. L. Moran, “The Hebrew Language in Its Northwest Semitic Background,” in The Bible and the Ancient Near East, ed. G. E. Wright (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1956), p. 69. For its existence in the ancient Hebrew poetry of the OT, see E. LipinÃski, “Judges 5, 4-5 et Psaume 68, 8-11,” Bib 55 (1974): 174-75; Patterson, “Song of Deborah,” pp. 127, 131. See further Williams, Syntax, par. 129, 536; S. Moscati et al., An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1964), pp. 113-14.

308 Thomas McComiskey, The Covenants of Promise (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), p. 57.

309 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:64.

310 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 325.

311 This is one of 18 passages in the Tiqqune sopherim alleged to be scribal emendations designed to protect God’s name and character. Whereas some view these “emendations” as scribal corrections of the text (e.g., R. Smith; cf. NJB, p. 156t), others view them as expressions of what the scriptural author originally intended to write but did not (e.g., Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:64). See further E. Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 15-19.

312 Dahood, Psalms, 3:324. See also M. Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” RSP, 3:18-19.

313 A. J. O. van der Wal, “ Lo„ Na„mu„t in Habakkuk I 12:A Suggestion,” VT 38 (1988): 480-82.

314 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 324. In a critical note Laetsch cites with approval the words of Martin Luther: “We may regard this sentence as a question. Is it not true, Lord, that Thou art my God of old, my Holy One, so that we shall not die, but that Thou wilt use him to punish and correct us? He speaks to God in the form of questions” (p. 323).

315 Ibid.; see also the observations of Keil and Delitzsch in Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:65-66.

316 Edwin Yamauchi, “Babylon,” in Major Cities of the Biblical World, ed. R. K. Harrison (Nashville: Nelson, 1985), p. 36; Gerald Larue, Babylon and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 51. Larue’s description of the splendor of the city is particularly good (pp. 51-65). For an account of the exploration and excavation of ancient Babylon, see A. Parrot, Babylon and the Old Testament, trans. B. E. Hooke (New York: Philosophical Library, 1958), pp. 15-67.

317 D. J. Wiseman, “Babylon,” ISBE 1:388-89.

318 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:68-69

319 For the persistence of the qal passive in biblical Hebrew see R. J. Williams, “The Passive Qal Theme in Hebrew,” in Essays on the Ancient Semitic World, ed. J. W. Wevers and D. B. Redford (Toronto: U. of Toronto, 1970), pp. 43-50. Williams notes an analogous case with a middle weak verb occurring in Gen. 50:20 where the MT reads וַיִּישֶׂם (“he was placed”) whereas the Samaritan Pentateuch renders the form as a passive ( ויושם).

320 For the use of שׁוּב in a reply to an answer, see Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” 1:300-301.

321 C. Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:509.

322 For extended discussions of the biblical doctrine of God’s holiness, see A.H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson, 1907), pp. 268-75; Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (reprint, Minneapolis: Klock and Klock, 1977), pp. 446-532.

323 See further A. S. van der Woude, “ צור,” THAT 2:538-43; J. E. Hartley, צוּר,”TWOT 2:762; R. D. Patterson, “ סֵלַע,” TWOT 2:627.

324 I have demonstrated the use of asyndetic structure for dramatic effect as a feature of Akkadian literary composition also; see R. D. Patterson, Old Babylonian Parataxis (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1971), pp. 165-70.

325 The case for identifying the wicked with the Chaldeans here is defended by Marshall Johnson (“The Paralysis of Torah in Habakkuk,” VT 35 [1985]: 257-66), who theorizes that the Chaldean oppression of Judah occasioned a severe questioning of God by His prophet. Habakkuk had expected the blessing of God for the keeping of תּוֹרָה and מִשְׁפָּט in association with the Josianic reforms but instead saw only great evil and, rather than relief, the threat of increased Chaldean violence.

For discussion of these words for evil, see M. A. Klopfenstein, “ בגד,”THAT 1:261-63; S. Erlandsson, “ בָּגַד,” TDOT 1:470-72; G. Herbert Livingston, “ רָעַע,” TWOT 2:854-56; G. Herbert Livingston, “ רָשַׁע,” TWOT 2:863-64; Robert Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), pp. 78-79, 80, 81-82. M. J. Erickson (Christian Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984], 2:564-75) presents a lively and informative discussion concerning various scriptural terms for sin.

326 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:507.

327 See the excellent discussion in R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), pp. 235-37.

328 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:66.

329 A. van Seims, “Fishing,” ISBE 2:309-11.

330 See further Fred Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody, 1953), pp. 215-16. M. Dahood (“The Minor Prophets and Ebla,” in The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth, ed. Carol L. Meyers and M. O’Connor [Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1983], p. 60) suggests on the basis of recent finds at Ebla that ancient fishermen worshiped a god known as Divine Net.

331 See C. Westermann, “ גיל,” THAT 1:415-18; J. Bergman, H. Ringgren, C. Barth, “ גיל,” TDOT 2:469-75; E. Ruprecht, “ שׂמח,” THAT 2:829-35; B. Waltke, “ שָׂמַח,” TWOT 2:879.

332 For the occurrence of this set pair in the Keret epic, see Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook, no. 125: 14-15, 99. For a helpful bibliography, see Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” 1:354.

333 See, e.g., T. R. Hobbs, 2 Kings, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1985), p. 193.

334 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:508.

335 K. J. Cathcart, “A New Proposal for Hab 1, 17,” Bib 65 (1984): 575-76.

336 For details see GKC par. 114o; 156g; Williams, Syntax, par. 198.

337 See similarly the translation of Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:65: “Shall he therefore empty his net and always strangle nations without sparing?” W. G. E. Watson (Classical Hebrew Poetry [Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986], p.220), however, retains the MT but views * וְתָמִיד as an example of pivot-pattern parallelism closing the first poetic line climactically while setting the scene for the second (cf. NIV, NJB). Although attractive, such an understanding ignores the Masoretic accents, which place וְתָמִיד in the second line.

338 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:508.

339 Dahood, “Minor Prophets and Ebla,” p. 60.

340 BDB, p. 487.

341 For details, see W. H. Brownlee, “The Placarded Revelation of Habakkuk,” JBL 82 (1963): 319-25.

342 The uncertainty as to the exact material is underscored by similar instructions in Isa. 30:8: “Write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll” (NIV). The phraseology of the text in Isaiah and the problem of the extent of the message is analogous to that in Hab. 2:2-3; for details, see John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), pp. 550-51.

343 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 7:511.

344 C. L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1976), p. 211.

345 P. C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985), 2:92-93.

346 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:511.

347 J. M. Holt, “So He May Run Who Reads It,” JBL 83 (1964): 301.

348 C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954). 2:70.

349 J. G. Janzen, “Habakkuk 2:2-4 in the Light of Recent Philological Advances,” HTR 73 (1980): 58-78; see also W. H. Ward, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1911), p. 14 n.

350 M. Dahood, Psalms, AR (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), 1:169.

351 For a good discussion of the manifold uses of the term, see J. P. Lewis, “ ,יָעַדTWOT 1:387-89; G. Sauer, “ ,יעדTHAT 1:742-46.

352 See Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:512; F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), pp. 272-74; B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), pp. 347-48.

353 Nigel Turner points out that masculine pronouns can follow antecedents of other genders, so that a reference here to “vision” ( ὄραις) is not impossible; for details, see J. H. Moulton, W. F. Howard, and N. Turner, A Grammar of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1976), 3:312. My colleague and Septuagintal scholar Brent Sandy advises me in a personal communication that “gender differences between pronouns and antecedents are common in Greek and rarely indicative of theological importance. Since ὄρασις is separated from the αὐτόν and ἐρχόμενος by several phrases including nouns in the masculine and neuter, all of which are partially synonymous with the ὄρασις, the author is most likely enlarging the antecedents of αὐτόν to include all of the above.”

354 See H. M. Shires, Finding the Old Testament in the New (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), pp. 24-26; J. W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1972), pp. 95-97. This is not to say that the writer to the Hebrews has misused the OT text, for God’s appointed time is centered in the Messiah whether or not the LXX is a clear messianic text. Thus Keil (Minor Prophets, 2:70-71) remarks: “This goal was the end . . . towards which it hastened, i.e. the ‘last time,’ . . . the Messianic times, in which the judgment would fall upon the power of the world.” Further, the contexts of Hebrews and Habakkuk are analogous. As Richard Milligan (Epistle to the Hebrews, vol. 9 of The New Testament Commentary [Cincinnati: Central Book Concern, 1879], pp. 293-94) observes, it appears “that our author finds in the prophecy of Habakkuk, concerning the overthrow of the Chaldean monarchy, language so very appropriate to his purpose that he here takes and applies it as his own; thereby showing that the two cases are very analogous . . . but as is usual in such cases of accommodation (see Rom. x. 6-8), he so modifies the language as to adapt it to the case in hand. The main lesson is, however, the same in both Hebrews and Habakkuk; viz.: that God would certainly come and execute his purposes at the appointed time: and that while the proud and self-reliant would of necessity perish under the righteous judgments of God, the just man’s faith, if it wavered not, would certainly support him under the severest trials.” Moreover, the author of Hebrews’ handling of the passage may not be unprecedented, for G. Lünemann (“Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistle to the Hebrews,” in Meyer’s Commentaries on the New Testament [Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1882], p. 315) reports that the later Jewish theologians interpreted it as messianic.

355 See also R. Smith, Micah-Malachi, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1984), p. 105.

356 See D. Cohen, Dictionnaire des racines SeÃmitiques (Paris: Mouton, 1970), p. 15; CAD “A,” 1:170.

357 W. C. Kaiser, Jr. (Toward an Old Testament Theology [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978], p. 81), lists Hab. 2:4 as one of nine passages in the OT that record some 25 principles of morality recognized by the Jewish community.

358 Justification for the translation given here and a full discussion of the data essential for the Exegesis and Exposition may be found in the Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4 found at the end of this chapter.

359 For the possibility that the text originally contained the word “wicked,” see n. 14 in the Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4.

360 For selfishness as the essential principle of sin, see A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Judson, 1907), p. 567.

361 See further D. J. Wiseman,” יָשַׁר,” TWOT 1:417-18; G. Liedke, “ ישׁר,” THAT 1:790-94. See also R. Richards, “What Is Right?” Bible Translator 27 (1976): 220-24.

362 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:74.

363 M. J. Erickson (Christian Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984], 2:580) warns that sin has at its core a “failure to let God be God.”

364 T. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (Saint Louis: Concordia, 1956), p. 332.

365 P. J. M. Southwell, “A Note on Hab 2:4-5,” JTS 19 (1968): 616-17.

366 So K. Budde, as cited by Ward, Habakkuk, p. 14 n.

367 E. B. Smick, “ חָיָה,” TWOT 1:280.

368 For details, see BDB, p. 65.

369 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 301. Keil (Minor Prophets, 2:74) points out that “in the present instance it adds a new and important feature to what is stated in ver. 4a.”

370 Thus Keil (Minor Prophets, 2:74-75) observes: “The application to the Chaldaean is evident from the context. The fact that the Babylonians were very much addicted to wine is attested by ancient writers.”

371 See, e.g., J. A. Emerton, “The Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk II.4-5,” JTS 28 (1977): 6-8.

372 M. T. Houtsma, “Habakuk II, vs. 4 en 5 verbeterd,” Theologisch Tijdschrift 19 (1885): 180-83.

373 A. S. van der Woude, “Habakkuk 2:4,” ZAW 82 (1970): 281-82.

374 Whereas Emerton declares that the χατοιόμενος constitutes an inner LXX corruption from an original χατοινωμένος, Brownlee decides for its originality here. See Emerton, “Textual Problems,” pp. 1, 9; Brownlee, “Placarded Revelation,” p. 324.

375 For the preference of the more difficult reading and the adoption of the reading that best explains the other(s), see E. Würthwein The Text of the Old Testament, 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 116-19; C. E. Armerding, The Old Testament and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), pp. 125-27.

376 See further R. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), pp. 52-54; H. Kosmala, “ גָּבַר,” TDOT 2:377-82.

377 R. Smith, Micah-Malachi, p. 105. Among the many other suggestions of the expositors may be noted that of George Zemek, Jr. (“Interpretive Challenges Relating to Habakkuk 2:4b,” GTJ 1 [1980]: 62): “He will not be successful.”

378 See further Alexander Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1963), pp. 176-223; R. L. Harris, “ שְׁאוֹל,” TWOT 2:892-93; R. L. Harris, “The Meaning of the Word Sheol as shown by Parallels in Poetic Passages,” JETS 4 (1961): 129-35; W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, [n.d.]), 2:594-640; John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica: Matthew—I Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 3:165-72.

379 For the employment of gender-matched parallelism, see W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986), p. 125.

380 See H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981), pp. 10-25.

381 B. Waltke, “ נֶפֶשׁ,” TWOT 2:589.

382 In addition, if “wine” is to be retained in v. 5, it may anticipate the denunciation concerning drinking in vv. 15-16.

383 D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldaean Kings (London: The Trustees of the British Museum, 1956), pp. 69, 71; see further H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness That Was Babylon (New York: Hawthorn, 1962), pp. 134-53.

384 Instances of such exclamatory interruptions are not without scriptural precedent; see Judg. 5:21; Neh. 5:19; Joel 3:11 (HB 4:11).

385 G. A. Smith (The Book of the Twelve Prophets, rev. ed. [Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1929], 2:146 n. 3) deems it an intrusion by a later editorial hand.

386 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:78-79; see also Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 335.

387 For details, see A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire (Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1948), pp. 34-58. See also Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), pp. 72-74, 85-89; G. Buchanan Gray, “The Foundation and Extension of the Persian Empire,” in CAH, 4:2-14.

388 A. Parrot, Babylon and the Old Testament (New York: Philosophical Library, 1956), p. 121.

389 R. Ghirshman, Iran (Baltimore: Penguin, 1954), p. 132.

390 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:79.

391 R. Smith, Minor Prophets, pp. 110-11.

392 C. Eiselen, The Minor Prophets (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1907), p. 488.

393 See further W. McKane, Proverbs (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), pp. 22-33; A. S. Herbert, “The Parable ( ma„sŒa„l) in the Old Testament,” SIT 7 (1954): 180-96.

394 See H. Torczyner, “The Riddle in the Bible,” HUCA 1 (1924): 125-49.

395 Although some have suggested a derivation of מְלִיצָה from מָלַץ (“be slippery”), the more traditional identification with לוּץ / לִיץ (“scorn”) seems assured. The suggestion in the Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (New York: United Bible Societies, 1980), 5:357, to render the word “irony” or “enigmatic irony” (taking מְליצָה with חִידוֹת ), though interesting, may suggest too fixed a literary form.

396 See GKC, par. 147 n. c.

397 See CAD “E,” p. 20; AHW p. 184b. The LXX hazards a guess ad sensum for the entire line: “Make his yoke severely heavy.”

398 See J. E. Hartley, “Pledge,” ISBE, 3:886-87; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), pp. 171-72.

399 See Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:78; in this he is followed by Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:517 (cf. also Pesh., KJV).

400 The intention of the original author is nicely portrayed in the syntax here, which employs a suffix-conjugation verb after two previous prefix-conjugation verbs.

401 “The Grotefend Inscription of Nebuchadrezzar II,” trans. C. D. Gray, in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature (New York: Appleton, 1901), p. 148.

402 For details on ancient Babylon, see E. Yamauchi, “Babylon,” in Major Cities of the Biblical World, ed. R. K. Harrison (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), pp. 36-47; D. J. Wiseman, “Babylon,” ISBE, 1:386-89.

403 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:84.

404 H. Hailey, A Commentary on the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972), p. 285.

405 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 336.

406 See the additional note concerning נֶפֶשׁ at Hab. 2:5.

407 “East India House Inscription of Nebuchadrezzar II,” trans. C. D. Gray, in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp. 141-42.

408 The Hebrew root עול has been suggested as an alternative reading for the troublesome עֻפְּלָה of Hab. 2:4; see the Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4.

409 See the “Inscription of Nabopolassar,” trans. P. Bruce, in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp. 131-33.

410 See the several inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar II in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp. 134-57; see also R. W. Rogers, ed., Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament, 2d ed. (New York: Abingdon, 1926), pp. 363-64, 368-69.

411 “The Winckler Inscription of Nebuchadrezzar II,” trans. C. D. Gray, in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, p. 146. The Neo-Babylonian kings continued to be interested in building projects, particularly in temples. For several reports concerning such enterprises, see “The Stele of Nabonidus,” trans. R. F. Harper, in Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp. 158-63; see also Rogers, Cuneiform Parallels, pp. 378-79.

412 Rogers, Cuneiform Parallels, p. 363.

413 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 337.

414 Craigie, Twelve Prophets, 2:98.

415 Erickson, Christian Theology, 1:352; elsewhere Erickson says, “As the highest value in the universe, the source from which all else derives, God must choose his own glory ahead of all else. As the only infinite being, this is what he must do. To put something else in the primary place would in effect be a case of idolatry” (p. 288).

416 Erickson, Christian Theology, 1:300.

417 Girdlestone, Synonyms, p. 79.

418 G. H. Livingston, “ ,עוּלTWOT 2:652-54.

419 See further the exposition of Nah. 2:13 and the additional note on 1 Kings 18:15 in R. D. Patterson and H. J. Austel, “ 1, 2 Kings,” in EBC, 4:142-43.

420 See further R. L. Harris’s note to G. van Groningen, “ גוה,” TWOT 1:153.

421 See also Dahood, Psalms, 3:346. For chiasmus functioning as closure to a stanza, see Watson, Hebrew Poetry, p. 205.

422 See my remarks in “Joel,” in EBC, 7:265-66. For helpful discussions of the glory of the Lord, see G. Kittel, “ δόξα,” TDNT 2:233-37; S. Aalen, “Glory, Honour,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 2:44-48.

423 H. Freeman, Nahum Zephaniah Habakkuk, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1973), p. 113.

424 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:518.

425 See A. Heidel, Gilgamesh Epic, pp. 6-7.

426 See AR, 2:161-62.

427 See Assyrian and Babylonian Literature, pp. 141-42.

428 Craigie, Twelve Prophets, 2:98.

429 See further my comments and the note on 2 Kings 10:28-32 in “1, 2 Kings,” in EBC, 4:212, 215, and the extensive discussion of J. G. Botterweck, “ בְּהֵמָה,” TDOT 2:6-12.

430 All three views have been followed in modern foreign language translations, Luther’s Die Heilige Schrift following (1), the Italian La Sacra Bibblia (2), and the French La Sainte Bible (3). Among the ancient versions the Vg renders the MT as fel, which can be translated as “anger” or “venom,” whereas the LXX and Pesh. go their own way or translate ad sensum. The Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 5:359, puts forward the suggestion, “Your wine which inflames.”

431 See Würthewein, Text of the Old Testament, p. 116.

432 See the additional note on Nah. 2:13.

433 W. Leslau, Ethiopic and South Arabic Contributions to the Hebrew Lexicon, U. of California Publications on Semitic Philology XX (Los Angeles: U. of California, 1958), p. 37. KB-3 suggests that the Ethiopic word may point to yet a third root with this spelling.

434 Keil (Minor Prophets, 2:87) emphatically denies such a meaning for סָפַח, and KB-3 does not list one. BDB postulates it as a proposed root for several nouns but does not relate Hab. 2:15 to it.

435 This solution is adopted by R. Smith, Habakkuk, p. 109.

436 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:519 n.

437 Ibid.

438 For the concatenation of cup, wrath, and drunkenness (staggering/reeling), see Isa. 51:17-23.

439 See GKC, par. 105m.

440 See Dahood, Psalms, 3:430-31.

441 For details, see A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1901), par. 87.

442 For similar instances of this syntactical feature, see Dahood, Psalms, 3:432-33.

443 See M. Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” RSP, 3:143-44. The noun קִיקָלוֹן apparently arises from progressive assimilation of consonant to vowel: קִיקָלוֹן < קִלְקָלוֹן" < קָלַל; see KB-3, p. 1027. Similar cases of nouns derived from the pilpel stem of this root are attested in postbiblical Hebrew; see M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York: Pardes, 1950), 2:1382-83. For discussions of this root and its derivatives, see C. A. Keller, “ קלל,” THAT 2:641-47; L. J. Coppes, “ קָלַלTWOT 2:800-801. For the use of phonetic assimilation in the Semitic languages, see S. Mosacati, ed., An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1964), pp. 56-58.

444 Laetsch, Minor Prophets, p. 339; see also Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 5:360-61.

445 See the helpful observations of P. Gilchrist, “ ,ימןTWOT 1:382-83.

446 For the existence of the energic verbal form in Northwest Semitic, see C. Gordon, UT, 1:72-73; W. L. Moran, A Syntactical Study of the Dialect of Byblos as Reflected in the Amarna Tablets (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1967), pp. 43-49. For the utilization of the energic in Hebrew, see F. M. Cross, Jr., Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1950), p. 51; D. R. Meyer, Hebrä ische Grammatik (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1969), 2:100-101.

447 See the note on Joel 1:18 in Patterson, “Joel,” in EBC, 7:244.

448 Habakkuk’s method of closure here is both climactic and carefully structured. For details, see Watson, Hebrew Poetry, pp. 62-65.

449 See H. Preuss, “ אֱלִילTDOT 1:285-87.

450 Craigie, Twelve Prophets, 2:99.

451 For the use of the hiphil to express inward transitivity, see GKC, par. 53d-f.

452 See the helpful classification of the various words for idol in the editorial note by R. L. Harris in E. S. Kalland, “ גָּלַל,” TWOT 1:163-64.

453 See the additional note concerning פֶּסֶל and מַסֵּכָה at Nah. 1:14.

454 Preuss, “ אֱלִיל,” TDOT 1:285.

455 G. Vermes (The Dead Sea Scrolls in English [Baltimore: Penguin, 1962], p. 240) translates the phrase in question as “a fatling of lies.”

456 See A. Baumann, “ דָּמָה II,” TDOT 3:260-65.

457 C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1975), 1:101.

458 J. M. Boice, The Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 2:90.

459 The citation of Martin Luther is taken from the Preface to the Latin Writings (LW, 34:336-37) as quoted by Justo L. González, A History of Christian Thought (Nashville: Abingdon, 1975), 3:29. See also K. S. Latourette, A History of Christianity, rev. ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 2:703-7.

460 C. L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1948), p. 211.

461 J. Gerald Janzen, “Habakkuk 2:2-4 in the Light of Recent Philological Advances,” HTR 73 (1980): 53-78.

462 See M. Dahood, Psalms, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), 1:169; S. E. Loewenstamm, “ Ya„pîah£, ya„piah£, ya„pe„ah£," 26 (1962-63): 205-8.

463 Janzen, “Habakkuk 2:2-4,” p. 76.

464 Ibid., p. 61.

465 Ibid., pp. 59-60.

466 See W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986), p. 164; Dietrich-Alex Koch, “Der Text von Hab 2 4b in der Septuaginta und im Neuen Testament,” ZNW 76 (1985): 73 n. 26. הִנֵּה can of course appear in other environments (cf. v. 19).

467 See H. van Dyke Parunak, “Transitional Techniques in the Bible,” JBL 102 (1983): 540-41.

468 For details, see J. A. Emerton, “Textual and Linguistic Problems of Habakkuk 2:4-5,” JTS 28 (1977): 1-18.

469 With the Arabic root one may also compare the late Hebrew הֶעְפִּיל “be foolhardy,” “act rashly”; see Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York: Pardes, 1950), 2:1100. For the division of the Hebrew noun in MT into לֹה and עַף, see Emerton, “Linguistic Problems,” pp. 16-17.

470 See the Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (New York: United Bible Societies, 1980), 5:356. The reading of the Pesh. and the Tg. Neb. underscores the possibility of an emendation to “the wicked” here, an idea supported by the occurrence of forms of the roots צדק and ישׁר together with the concept of wickedness elsewhere (e.g., Deut. 32:4; cf. Ps. 92:15 [HB 92:16]). A similar proposal is that an original עַוָּל may have fallen out due to haplography (so Wellhausen). W. H. Brownlee (“The Placarded Revelation of Habakkuk,” JBL 82 [1963]: 322-24) suggests the retaining of the MT עֻפְּלָה but with the interpolation of a following עַוָּל and then with redivision yielding עפל העול, “the haughty is naughty”!

471 W. H. Ward (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1911], p. 14 n.) pronounces the whole line “corrupt past safe reconstruction.”

472 See E. Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 116-17; C. E. Armerding, The Old Testament and Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), p. 126.

473 See Janzen, “Habakkuk 2:2-4,” pp. 62-66. H. W. Wolff (Anthropology of the Old Testament [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974], p. 10) declares that “today we are coming to the conclusion that it is only in a very few passages that the translation ‘soul’ corresponds to the meaning of nepesŒ.”

474 See the excellent discussion in Wolff, Anthropology, pp. 10-26.

475 Wolff (Anthropology, pp. 17-18) gives an inclusive list of such passages.

476 Prov. 29:10 seems to indicate that the upright is concerned for his neighbor’s nepesŒ (but cf. NIV). For an excellent discussion of the difficult second line of this verse, see William McKane, Proverbs (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970), p. 637.

477 C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 2:71.

478 For details, see GKC, par. 7b, c; 84c; 91e; cf. Hab. 3:4.

479 See GKC, par. 15e, f; the pronoun with ב would be resumptive.

480 See further A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1901), par. 143; 144 and the translation on p. 177.

481 Ward, Habakkuk, p. 14.

482 See H. G. Stigers, “ צָדֵק”,”TWOT 2:752-55. A comprehensive investigation of the root and its manifold usages may be found in K. Koch, “ צדק,” THAT 2:507-30.

483 For helpful discussions of divine righteousness, see J. B. Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962), pp. 154-61; W. Dyrness, Themes in Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1979), pp. 53-57; Hermann Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, 4th Eng. ed., trans. William Urwick (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1895), pp. 183-88.

484 Geerhardus Vos (Biblical Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954], pp. 270-76) maintains that a judicial substratum is to be observed throughout the whole assortment of contexts where צַדִּיק occurs. See also Cremer, Lexicon, pp. 690-92.

485 C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, The Pentateuch, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 3:468.

486 M. J. Erickson (Christian Theology [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983], 1:299) points out that God’s attributes control His acts and give to man a model to “relate to God by governing our actions in accordance with what the Scriptures say God is like.” Cremer (Lexicon, p. 184) observes: “Righteousness in the biblical sense is a condition of rightness the standard of which is God, which is estimated according to the divine standard, which shows itself in behaviour conformable to God, and has to do above all things with its relation to God, and with the walk before Him.” This aspect of the consideration of צַדִּיק, however, by no means minimizes the truth of the observation of Cranfield (Romans, 1:94) that “there are passages in which s£addîk£, used of Israel or of the individual Israelite, refers to status rather than to ethical condition (see, for example, Ps 32.11 in the light of vv. 1, 2 and 5; Isa 60.21).”

487 יָשָׁר is parallel to צַדִּיק Ps. 33:1 and to תָּם in Job 1:1, 8. It is thus a vital characteristic of the one who fears God and walks uprightly before Him (see the exposition of Hab. 2:4). Interestingly enough, forms of the two suggested emendations for the עֻפְּלָה of the first line are also found in Deut. 32:4: פֹּעַל ,עָוֵל.

488 The danger of assuming the presence of a root’s proposed original meaning throughout the group of words that incorporate the root and/or in every context is duly treated by D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), pp. 26-32; see also James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (London: SCM Press, 1983), pp. 100-106.

489 Barr, Semantics, pp. 161-87.

490 A. Jepsen, “ אָמַן,” TDOT 1:293.

491 KB-3, 1:61-62.

492 Barr, Semantics, p. 187.

493 J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957), pp. 154-56. Lightfoot, however, holds that in Hab. 2:4 the active and passive senses are blended together.

494 A. Jepsen, “ אָמַן,” TDOT 1:317.

495 Ibid., pp. 317, 320.

496 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:73.

497 The LXXA reads μον after δίχαιος. The order given above could also mean “because of faith in me.”

498 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:74.

499 G. J. Zemek, Jr. (“Interpretive Challenges Relating to Habakkuk 2:4b,” GTJ 1 [1980]: 53), follows the lead of his student H. S. Bryant in translating אֱמוּנָה as “‘fruit of faith’: ‘faithful faith’ or ‘steadfast trust.’“ Barr (Semantics, p. 201) maintains that part of the problem here arises from the fact that “Hebrew usage, as far as the Old Testament evidence shows (with some possible qualification for Hab. 2:4), had developed no substantive meaning ‘believing, faith’ to correspond with its well known verb heáemin ‘trust, believe’—but Greek had such a word in πίστις.”

500 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:73.

501 A. P. Ross, Creation and Blessing (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), p. 310.

502 Keil and Delitzsch, Pentateuch, 1:213. The authors lay stress on הֶאֱמִין as meaning “trust” or “believe” (p. 212), a conclusion acknowledged (though on a different basis) by Barr.

503 See also Ps. 32:11; Isa. 60:21.

504 See Cranfield, Romans, 1:101-2.

505 H. A. W. Meyer (Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Epistle to the Galatians, 5th ed., trans. G. H. Venables [New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884], p. 114) finds in Habakkuk’s words a messianic reference. See also his cogent remarks in Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book to the Epistle to the Romans, 5th ed., trans. J. C. Moore and E. Johnson, trans. rev. and ed. W. P. Dickson (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884), p. 53.

506 E. F. Harrison, “Romans,” in EBC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), p. 20.

507 N. R. Lightfoot, Jesus Christ Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), p. 198.

508 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), pp. 274-75. Bruce’s discussion (pp. 271-75) contains full data as to the critical problems in the LXX citation of Hab. 2:4. See also B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), pp. 347-48.

509 In his helpful excursus on chap. 3, C. Armerding (“Habakkuk,” in EBC [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985], 7:521) likewise notes this structural arrangement and views it as a large chiasmus: “introduction, v. 1 (A); prayer, v. 2 (B); theophany, vv. 3-15 (C); response, vv. 16-19 (B1); epilogue, v. 19 (A1).”

510 For the uniqueness of chap. 3, as well as its essential unity with chaps. 1-2, see under Literary Context in the introduction.

511 P. C. Craigie, Twelve Prophets (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985), 2:102.

512 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:523.

513 C. F. Keil, The Twelve Minor Prophets, COT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 2:93.

514 Ibid.; see also C. L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody, 1976), p. 216.

515 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:523.

516 J. D. W. Watts, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, Cambridge New English Bible Commentary (London: Cambridge U. 1975), p. 144. See also Preliminary and Interim Report on the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (New York: United Bible Societies, 1980), 5:362. The NJB renders the term “tune for dirges,” perhaps reflecting a relation with the Akkadian s†egu„, “psalm of lament”; see further C. Bezold, Babylonisch-Assyrisches Glossar (Heidelberg: Carl Winter’s Universitätsbuchhandlung, 1926), p. 265.

517 The LXX translates the term μετὰ ᾠδῆς (“with an ode”), whereas the Vg renders it pro ignorantiis and the Pesh. omits it.

518 J. Ronald Blue, “Habakkuk,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. J. F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Victor, 1985), p. 1517.

519 Theodore Hiebert, God of My Victory, Harvard Semitic Monographs 38 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1986), pp. 60-61.

520 To the contrary, see Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:94-95; H. E. Freeman, Nahum Zephaniah Habakkuk, Everyman’s Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1973), pp. 116-17; C. von Orelli, The Twelve Minor Prophets, trans. J. S. Banks (1897; reprint, Minneapolis: Klock and Klock, 1977), p. 252.

521 For details, see M. Dahood, Psalms, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), 3:432.

522 See W. H. Ward, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Habakkuk, ICC (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1911), p. 26; see also Hiebert, God of My Victory, pp. 13-14.

523 M. L. Barré (“Habakkuk 3:2: Translation in Context,” CBQ 50 [1988]: 184-97) translates רֹגֶז as “fury” and views it as parallel to קֶרֶב, which he understands as “battle.”

524 For details, see L. J. Coppes, “ רָחַם,” TWOT 2:841-43; H. J. Stoebe, “ רחם,” THAT 2:761-67.

525 W. F. Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” in Studies in Old Testament Prophecy Dedicated to T. H. Robinson, ed. H. H. Rowley (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1950), p. 8.

526 F. M. Cross, Jr., “The Divine Warrior in Israel’s Early Cult,” in Biblical Motifs, ed. Alexander Altmann (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1966), p. 25. Cross links this motif with the idea of kingship and suggests that both were utilized in the royal cultus (pp. 27-33). See further R. D. Patterson, “The Song of Deborah,” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, ed. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg (Chicago: Moody, 1981), pp. 130-31.

527 See, e.g., D. N. Freedman, “Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah,” BA 50 (1987): 241-49. Also see André Lemaire, “Who or What Was Yahweh’s Asherah?” BAR 10 (1984): 42-51. Lemaire’s article remains among the finest and most balanced in the sizable literature on this subject.

528 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:525; see further G. Warmuth, “ הוֹד,” TDOT 3:352-54.

529 See BDB, p. 240.

530 Albright (“The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 8) suggests that the poem “was probably taken with little alteration from a very early Israelite poem on the theophany of Yahweh as exhibited in the south-east storm, the zauba’ah of the Arabs; the historico-geographical background reflects the period following the wilderness wanderings.”

531 Armerding (“Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:526) points out that “the ‘hand’ is repeatedly a symbol of the Lord’s power ... a ‘power’ manifested conspicuously in the forces of nature ... which are ‘hidden’ in his storehouse.”

532 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:100.

533 See Hiebert, God of My Victory, pp. 77-79. See also Frank Moore Cross, Jr., Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1950), pp. 54-56; Moshe Held, “The YQTL-QTL (QTL-YQTL) Sequence of Identical Verbs in Biblical Hebrew and in Ugaritic,” in Studies and Essays in Honor of Abraham A. Neuman, ed. M. Ben-Horin, B. D. Weinryb, and S. Zeitlin (Leiden: Brill, 1962), pp. 281-90.

534 See Thomas J. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, WEC, ed. Kenneth Barker (Chicago: Moody, 1990), p. 362.

535 Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” pp. 11-12.

536 See Z. S. Harris, Development of the Canaanite Dialects (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1939), pp. 55-56. For its possible presence elsewhere in Habakkuk, see the Excursus on Habakkuk 2:4.

537 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:101.

538 Hiebert (God of My Victory, pp. 95-97) suggests that Kushan and Midian were not objects of God’s terrifying activity but, like Habakkuk, were possibly worshipers of Yahweh who shared his awe. He finds in this suggestion “a very early date for the composition of this material” (p. 97).

539 See W. F. Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969), p. 186. See also Hiebert, God of My Victory, pp. 92-94; John Day, “New Light on the Mythological Background of the Allusions to Resheph in Habakkuk iii 5,” VT 29 (1979): 353-55. For the proposed Eblaite evidence, see the comments of M. Dahood in G. Pettinato, The Archives of Ebla (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981), p. 296.

540 See Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 15. Hiebert (God of My Victory, p. 21) follows Albright in this and comments on the projected hapax legomenon as follows: “The verb h£tá, ‘to crush, ruin, vanquish,’ though not attested elsewhere in biblical Hebrew, is a common Semitic verb. It is present in Ugaritic literature ... and in the Amarna correspondence.... Also to be noted are the Akkadian h¬ata‚ (for h¬ata„áu), ‘smash,’ and the Arabic h¬ataáa, ‘to be broken, humbled’ (8th form).” Both Albright and Hiebert are forced to emend the text, each doing it in a different way.

541 תחת appears as a geographical name in Num. 33:26-27. און-type forms occur as personal names and geographical names in the OT (e.g., Num. 16:1; Ezra 2:33; Neh. 6:2; 7:37; 11:35; Amos 1:5; cf. Gen. 36:23; 38:4, 8, 9, etc.). If תחתאון is to be taken as a geographical name, ־און may be associated with a noun meaning “vigor” or “wealth” coming from a second homophonous root to that of the usual noun translated “trouble,” “wickedness,” “distress.” The confusion between the two words may have been viewed as a literary pun: תחתאון, “wealthy place,” is seen as “in distress.”

542 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 95.

543 See Feinberg, Minor Prophets, p. 218.

544 See A. Cooper, “Divine Names and Epithets in the Ugaritic Texts,” RSP, 3:375-76; for a similar treatment, see U. Cassuto, “Chapter III of Habakkuk and the Ras Shamra Texts,” in Biblical and Oriental Studies, trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975), 2:11-12.

545 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:103. Armerding (“Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:528) rightly observes that “Exodus and Sinai alike are the incarnation of events with universal significance.”

546 For enclitic -m, see M. Pope, “Ugaritic Enclitic -m,” JCS 5 (1951): 123-28; H. D. Hummel, “Enclitic MEM in Early Northwest Semitic, Especially Hebrew,” JBL 76 (1957): 85-106; M. Dahood, Psalms, 3:408-9.

547 See, e.g., Cross, Ancient Yahwistic Poetry, p. 140; M. Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” RSP, 1:203.

548 Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” 1:284; for רכב, see R. D. Patterson, “A Multiplex Approach to Psalm 45,” GTJ 6 (1985): 29-48.

549 D. N. Freedman, “The Broken Construct Chain,” Biblica 53 (1972): 535. For added discussion as to the broken construct chain, see A. C. M. Blommerde, “The Broken Construct Chain, Further Examples,” Biblica 55 (1974): 549-52. For a negative appraisal of the whole concept, see J. D. Price, “Rosh: An Ancient Land Known to Ezekiel,” GTJ 6 (1985): 79-88.

550 See M. H. Pope, Song of Songs, AB (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977), pp. 303-4.

551 See W.G.E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986), p. 183.

552 For the motif of the divine warrior, see F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1973), pp. 91-111; D. Stuart, “The Sovereign’s Day of Conquest: A Possible Ancient Near Eastern Reflex of the Israelite ‘Day of Yahweh’,” BASOR 221 (1976): 159-64; Patrick D. Miller, Jr., The Divine Warrior in Early Israel (Cambridge: Harvard U., 1973).

553 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 25.

554 Note the translation in the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 5:364: “You uncover your bow (so that it is) naked”; cf. RSV, “strip.”

555 For details, see GKC, par. 117p, q, cc-ee.

556 Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 12.

557 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:103.

558 B. Margulis, “The Psalm of Habakkuk: A Reconstruction and Interpretation,” ZAW 82 (1970): 420.

559 T. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (St. Louis: Concordia, 1956), p. 347. See further H. St. John Thackery, “Primitive Lectionary Notes in the Psalm of Habakkuk,” JTS 12 (1911): 191-213.

560 See Dahood, “Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” 1:258. The ת in מַטּוֹת is the common Canaanite fem. sing. ending.

561 Ward, Habakkuk, p.23. See also Patterson, “Psalm 45,” pp. 38-39; Hiebert, God of My Victory, pp. 26-27.

562 Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 15. Albright, however, needlessly takes the following mat£t£o‚t from Epigraphic South Arabic mt£w (“fight”). The verb could also be pointed as a piel suffix conjugation שִׂבַּעְתָּ (“you satisfied”; cf. BHS).

563 See G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1956), pp. 84-85.

564 See C. Gordon, UT, 3:356.

565 UT, 2:180.

566 For the use of double-duty consonants, see I. O. Lehman, “A Forgotten Principle of Biblical Textual Tradition Rediscovered,” JNES 26 (1967): 93; cf. Dahood, Psalms, 2:81; 3:371. For asyndetic subordination, see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax (Toronto: Toronto U., 1976), p. 90; Dahood, Psalms, 3:426-27; A. B. Davidson, Hebrew Syntax (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1958), pp. 191-92. For the corresponding Akkadian construction, see W. von Soden, GAG, p. 219.

567 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 98.

568 For archaeological illumination of the stopping up of the Jordan due to earthquake and the effect of seismic activity on the fall of Jericho, see J. P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History (Wheaton: Scripture Press, 1962), pp. 128-29; John J. Bimson, Redating the Exodus and Conquest (Sheffield: Almond, 1981), pp. 121-24.

569 Hiebert follows John Holladay and Patrick Miller in holding that the mention of sun and moon here not only has astrological importance but also implies their presence in the heavenly retinue: “Sun and Moon, members of the divine army, appear together in the sky in positions considered fortuitous astrologically, when the divine warrior goes into battle. As such they provide support for the attack (v 11b) launched by Yahweh” (God of My Victory, p. 100).

570 Theophany and judgment are also commonly combined in quasi-apocalyptic literature dealing with the Day of the Lord (cf. Isa. 13:10, 24:23; Joel 2:2, 10, 31 [HB 3:4]; 3:15 [HB 4:15]; Amos 5:8, 20; 8:9; Zeph. 1:15; see also Matt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12-13; 9:2).

571 Several other parallel terms common to Ugaritic and Hebrew have been suggested as present here by Dahood (“Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” 1:177-78, 218, 372-73): תֵץ|| יָד, נָתַן || נָשָׂא, תְּהוֹם || קוֹל (although the LXX may be right in finding the parallel of תְּהוֹם as רוֹם).

572 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 29.

573 Ibid., p. 30.

574 M. Dahood, “The Phoenician Contribution to Biblical Wisdom Literature,” in The Role of the Phoenicians in the Interaction of Mediterranean Civilizations, ed. William A. Ward (Beirut: American U. of Beirut, 1968), p. 140.

575 Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 12.

576 For the use of fixed pairs of set terms, see S. Gevirtz, Patterns in the Early Poetry of Israel (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1963), pp. 2-4, 10-14; Y. Avishur, “Word Pairs Common to Phoenician and Biblical Hebrew,” UF 7 (1975): 13-47. Note, however, the caution of P. C. Craigie, “Parallel Words in the Song of Deborah,” JETS 20 (1977): 15-22. For the participation of other celestial phenomena in earthly events, see Judg. 5:20; Isa. 60:19-20; and the remarks of P. C. Craigie, “Three Ugaritic Notes on the Song of Deborah,” JSOT 2 (1977): 33-49.

577 R. Smith, Micah-Malachi, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1984), p. 114.

578 See the discussion of J. Gamberoni, “ זְבֻל,” TDOT 4:29-31; see also H. Wolf, “ זְבֻל ,” TWOT 1:235.

579 Ward, Habakkuk, p. 21.

580 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:66.

581 A. G. Nute, “Habakkuk,” in The International Bible Commentary, ed. F. F. Bruce, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), p. 949.

582 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:531.

583 Blue, “Habakkuk,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 1520. The song itself, however, sang of the basic victory that made the eventual conquest of the land possible: the celebrated triumph at the time of Israel’s Exodus (cf. Ex. 12:31-36, 50-51; Acts 7:35-36; etc.).

584 Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 5:366-67.

585 For details, see A. R. Hulst, Old Testament Translation Problems (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1960), p. 252.

586 U. Cassuto, “Psalm LXVIII,” in Biblical and Oriental Studies, translated by Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1973), 1:268. See also Moshe Held, “ mh£s£, * m h in Ugaritic and Other Semitic Languages,” JAOS 79 (1959): 169-76. For discussion of progression of meaning as a strategy for intensification, see R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic Books, 1985), pp. 63-65.

587 Hiebert (God of My Victory, p. 108) may be correct in affirming that “no single historical battle or enemy is singled out by the poet as is the case, for example, in Judges 5. The hymn of triumph celebrates, as do Deut 33:2-3, 26-29 and Psalm 68, the wars of conquest as a whole.”

588 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:111.

589 Ps. 114:3, 5 likewise links together both watery crossings of the Israelites, whereas Ps. 77:19 (HB 77:20) applies the “many waters” mentioned here (cf. Ex. 15:10) in connection with the Red Sea crossing to the crossing of the Jordan River. For the debate over the matter of whether the Hebrew יַם־סוּף is to be translated “Red Sea” or “Sea of Reeds,” see R. L. Hubbard, Jr., “Red Sea,” ISBE 4:58-61, and the extensive bibliography there. For the linking of the Exodus and Conquest episodes, see M. Fishbane, Text and Texture (New York: Schocken, 1979), pp. 121-40.

590 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:112.

591 Armerding, “Habakkuk,” in EBC, 7:530.

592 See M. Dahood, “Two Yiphil Causatives in Hab 313a,” Or 48 (1979): 258-59. Note that ישׁע uniformly occurs in Northwest Semitic in the extensive stem; see, e.g., the Moabite Inscription, line 4, H. Donner and W. Röllig, Kannaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1966), 1:33.

593 Albright, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 13.

594 Freedman, “The Broken Construct Chain,” p. 535. Freedman goes on to remark: “Apparently the second phrase is a construct chain, like the first, except that the intrusive át has been inserted between the construct and the absolute. Exactly what the át is it may be difficult to say: it may be the emphasizing particle, normally used to identify the definite direct object of a verb (here of the action), or it may be the pronoun written defectively, used here to call attention to the pronominal suffix attached to the following noun.”

595 See GKC, par. 117 1, m.

596 See E. B. Pusey, The Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1950), 2:217. The understanding of את as “with” is also ably defended by A. R. Fausset, “Habakkuk,” in R. Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary Critical, Experimental and Practical on the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 4:635-36. For additional cases of double-duty prepositions occurring only in the second parallel line, see the examples in Dahood, Psalms, 3:436-37.

597 For a discussion of the prepositions אֶת and עִם, see H. D. Preuss, “ אֵת,” TDOT 1:449-58.

598 See ANET, p. 67.

599 See ibid., p. 20.

600 See ibid., p. 131.

601 For details, see GKC, par. 75n; Williams, Hebrew Syntax, pp. 38-39; M. Hammershaimb, “On the So-called Infinitivus Absolutus in Hebrew,” in Hebrew and Semitic Studies Presented to Godfrey Rolles Driver, ed. D. W. Thomas and W. D. McHardy (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963), pp. 85-93.

602 See Davidson, Syntax, pp. 18-19. BDB (p.641) lists possible masculine and feminine plural forms for מַטֶּה Dual ascriptions of gender are not without precedent with other nouns (e.g., שֶׁמֶשׁ); see Davidson, Syntax, p. 15.

603 See R. D. Patterson, “The Song of Deborah,” p. 132.

604 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p.43. Indeed, Margulis (“The Psalm of Habakkuk,” p. 427) observes with regard to the whole verse, “This text seems to defy comprehension. It is at first sight the most seriously damaged portion of the poem.” For full details as to the vast array of variant readings in this verse (especially the first four lines), see Hiebert, God of My Victory, pp. 43-46.

605 Suitable parallels can be found in Pss. 10:2, 8-10; 35:10; Prov. 30:14; etc.

606 For the preposition ב with דָּרַךְ (“tread on”), see Deut. 1:36, Josh. 14:9; Isa. 59:8; 63:2; Mic. 5:4-5.

607 For details, see Dahood, Psalms, 3:436.

608 Blue, “Habakkuk,” p. 1521. T. Hiebert (“The Use of Inclusion in Habakkuk 3,” in Directions in Biblical Poetry, ed. E. R. Follis [Sheffield, JSOT Press, 1987], p. 133) insists that no visible theophany occurred: “The theophany is an account ( sŒmà, qwl) which the poet has heard ( sŒmàty). The source of the account is human rather than divine, as is indicated by the fact that the divine subject of the account does not address the poet in the first person but is addressed by the narrator in the second and third persons. The poet thus locates himself within the milieu of recital. Habakkuk 3 represents the preservation and passing down of sacred traditions.”

609 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:113.

610 See A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (New York: Harper, 1931), 4:266.

611 Habakkuk’s example of faith (he was learning the truth of Hab. 2:4) is reminiscent of the declaration of E. J. Carnell (An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, 4th ed. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952], p. 82) that “faith is a resting of the soul in the sufficiency of the evidence.”

612 For details, see J. G. Hava, Al-Faraid Arabic-English Dictionary (Beirut: Catholic Press, 1964), p. 264.

613 See further Hulst, Translation Problems, p. 252; Hebrew Old Testament Text Project, 5:369-70; Hiebert, God of My Victory, pp. 51-52.

614 I take the verb to be an example of an inwardly transitive hiphil (see GKC, par. 53d); the meaning of the following noun is well attested in Ethiopic (see W. Leslau, Ethiopic and South Arabic Contributions to the Hebrew Lexicon, U. of California Publications on Semitic Philology XX [Los Angeles: U. of California, 1958], p. 12).

615 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 52, citing S. R. Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (New York: Scribner’s, 1914), pp. 96-97. Ward (Habakkuk, p. 25) similarly complains: “This verse requires correction to make the latter half intelligible.” Hiebert’s wholesale emendations are, however, less than convincing and add little to clarify the MT.

616 See e.g., Ward, Habakkuk, p. 28.

617 R. L. Harris, “ נוּחַTWOT 2:562.

618 See Williams, Hebrew Syntax, par. 273.

619 See the study of M. Futato, “The Preposition ‘Beth’ in the Hebrew Psalter,” WTJ 41 (1978): 68-81, especially pp. 70-72, where Futato makes a case for ל used to signify position at or during a course of action.

620 For details, see GKC, par. 119r; Williams, Hebrew Syntax, par. 271.

621 The LXX παροιχίας μον (“my sojourn”) apparently arises from a confusion of the Hebrew letters ד and ר, hence taking the root as גּוּר (“sojourn”).

622 For a discussion of the passage as a whole, see Cross, Ancient Yahwistic Poetry, pp. 128-83.

623 For a similar use of asyndetic parataxis in Akkadian, see R. D. Patterson, Old Babylonian Parataxis (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1971), pp. 128-81.

624 LXXBarb omits it altogether.

625 See further W. L. Moran (A Syntactical Study of the Dialect of Byblos as Reflected in the Amarna Tablets [Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1967], pp. 28-52) and S. Schrader (“Was the Earth Created a Few Thousand Years Ago—Yes,” in The Genesis Debate, ed. Ronald Youngblood [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990], pp. 76-77) for discussions of this syntactical device in other settings.

626 See R. D. Patterson, “Joel,” in EBC, 7:244.

627 For the qal passive, see R. J. Williams, “The Passive Qal Theme in Hebrew,” in Essays on the Ancient Semitic World, ed. J. W. Wevers and D. B. Redford (Toronto: U. of Toronto, 1970), pp. 43-50.

628 For the proposed interchangeability of מִן and ב, see Nahum M. Sarna, “The Interchange of the Prepositions Beth and Min in Biblical Hebrew,” JBL 78 (1959): 310-16. Similar functional interchange has been suggested for several of the Hebrew prepositions, including ב and תַּחַת (cf. v. 16), for which see J. C. Greenfield, “The Preposition B . . . Tah£at . . . in Jes 575,” ZAW 73 (1961): 226-28.

629 Craigie, Twelve Prophets, 2:103.

630 P. C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, WBC (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983), p. 79.

631 For details, see D. A. Foxvog and A. D. Kilmer, “Music,” ISBE 3:436-49.

632 Foxvog and Kilmer (“Music,” ISBE 3:448) warn against too ready an identification with stringed instruments in every occurrence of this term (e.g., Job 30:9; Ps. 69:12 [HB 69:13]; Isa. 38:30; Lam. 5:14).

633 Keil, Minor Prophets, 2:116. 1 Chron. 23:5 lists about 4,000 musicians employed in the Temple worship of whom 288 apparently were master musicians (1 Chron. 25:7).

634 Charles Wesley, “Rejoice—the Lord Is King!” in Hymns for the Family of God (Nashville: Paragon, 1976), no. 374.

635 In addition to the utilization of the material in my article in the Grace Theological Journal (see Introduction to Habakkuk, n. 21), I wish to acknowledge the helpfulness of studies by W. F. Albright, C. E. Armerding, U. Cassuto, and T. Hiebert (see the References).

636 T. Hiebert, God of My Victory, Harvard Semitic Monographs 38 (Atlanta: Scholars, 1986), p. 59. C. E. Armerding (“Habakkuk,” in EBC [Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1985], 7:521) finds a similar arrangement while treating the whole chapter as a chiasmus: introduction (v. 1), prayer (v. 2), theophany (vv. 3-15), response (vv. 16-19), epilogue (v. 19).

637 See Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 61.

638 Hiebert (ibid., p. 68) calls attention to “the pattern ‘trembling steps—anguish/joy—firm steps’” that unites the closing framework section to both the preceding theophanic material and the initial framework portion in v. 2.

639 The classic study of the corpus of ancient Hebrew literature is by Frank Moore Cross, Jr., Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U., 1950). See also Frank Moore Cross, Jr., and David N. Freedman, Early Hebrew Orthography (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1952). Other compositions reflecting this stage of Hebrew literature include Gen. 49:2-27; Ex. 15:1-18; Num. 23:7-10, 18-24; 24:3-9, 15-19, 20-24; Deut. 33:3-29; Judg. 5:2-31; Ps. 18 (=2 Sam. 22:2-51); 2 Sam. 23:1-7.

640 See Introduction to Habakkuk, n. 19.

641 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 76.

642 See chap. 3, n. 24.

643 Thus T. Hiebert (“The Use of Inclusion in Habakkuk 3,” in Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry, ed. Elaine R. Follis [Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987], p. 122) rightly observes: “The use of inclusion in Habakkuk 3 indicates the presence of four stanzas: introductory and concluding units (Stanza I, v. 2; Stanza IV, vv. 16-19) which provide a literary framework for the theophany in vv. 3-15, which is itself composed of two distinct units (Stanza II, vv. 3-7; Stanza III, vv. 8-15).”

644 For the justification of Hab. 33-15 as epic and a consideration of its relation to the other epic literature of the ancient world, see R. D. Patterson, “The Psalm of Habakkuk,” GTJ 8 (1987): 178-92. Hiebert (God of My Victory, p. 118) likewise terms the material epic, although he applies this terminology to the whole third chapter.

645 See A. J. Hauser, “Two Songs of Victory: A Comparison of Exodus 15 and Judges 5,” in Directions in Biblical Hebrew Poetry, pp. 265-84.

646 Hiebert, God of My Victory, p. 61.

647 Ibid., pp. 117-18.

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3. Zephaniah

Introduction to Zephaniah

Historical Context


Though an occasional voice of protest has been heard,648 few scholars have failed to accept the information in the superscription that the book’s author prophesied during the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C.) as indicative of the setting of this short prophecy.649 Rather, discussion concerning the date and background of the book has centered chiefly on the specific period within Josiah’s reign. The moral and spiritual conditions mentioned by Zephaniah have been taken by many to refer to Judah’s persistent apostasy and immorality despite the Josianic reform that began in earnest after the finding of the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22:8) in 621 B.C. (e.g., A. R. Fausset, C. L. Feinberg, J. Hannah, C. F. Keil, V. Reid, L. Walker). Others, however, believe that such matters as Zephaniah denounces could only be true of the earlier portion of Josiah’s reign, either when the boy king was yet unable to deal with the longstanding effects of the wickedness of Judah’s two previous kings, Manasseh and Amon, or when his reformation had only recently got underway (e.g., J. A. Bewer, C. H. Bullock, P. C. Craigie, F. C. Eiselen, O. Eissfeldt, H. Freeman, H. Hailey, R. K. Harrison, H. Hummel, A. S. Kapelrud, T. Laetsch, G. A. Larue, E. B. Pusey, T. H. Robinson, G. A. Smith, J. M. P. Smith, C. von Orelli).650

With capable scholars on both sides of the question, one is at first tempted to conclude with D. A. Schneider that “the evidence is insufficient to decide this debate.”651 In examining the internal data, however, several conclusions seem to favor the earlier period in Josiah’s reign: (1) religious practices in Judah were still plagued with Canaanite syncretistic rites such as characterized the era of Manasseh (1:4-5, 9); (2) many failed to worship Yahweh at all (1:6); (3) royalty were enamored with wearing the clothing of foreign merchants (1:8) who had extensive business enterprises in Jerusalem (1:10-11); and (4) Judahite society was beset by socio-economic ills (1:12-13, 18) and political and religious corruption (3:1-4, 7, 11). All this sounds like the same sort of wickedness that weighed heavily on the heart of Habakkuk. Moreover, several of the specific sins (e.g., 1:4-5, 9; 3:4) would have been corrected in Josiah’s reforms. Accordingly, I am inclined to side with those who prefer a date before 621 B.C.652

But how much before? Some have suggested that the political situation brought about by a Scythian raid (c. 630 B.C.)653 occasioned both Zephaniah’s response to God’s call and his urgent message concerning God’s impending judgment of the world.654 However, because the evidence of such an invasion is now considered to be tenuous at best, “the Scythian hypothesis has now been almost universally abandoned.”655 Thus the search for a precise date for Zephaniah cannot be pressed too far. Nevertheless the conditions denounced by Zephaniah do seem to echo the social and religious ills decried by Habakkuk, so that if Habakkuk ministered in the mid-seventh century B.C. (see Introduction to Habakkuk) a date earlier in Josiah’s reign is plausible. If so, Pusey may be on the right track:

The foreground of the prophecy of Zephaniah remarkably coincides with that of Habakkuk. Zephaniah presupposes that prophecy and fills it up. Habakkuk had prophesied the great wasting and destruction through the Chaldaeans, and then their destruction.... Zephaniah ... brings before Judah the other side, the agency of God Himself. God would not have them forget Himself in His instruments. Hence all is attributed to God.656

When one considers that Josiah was only eight years old when he ascended the throne in 640 B.C. and was dependent upon royal officials of questionable integrity (cf. 3:3), the cause for Zephaniah’s alarm is apparent. Further, that Josiah’s reforms were not instituted until the twelfth year of his reign (628 B.C.), four years after his initial spiritual awakening (2 Chron. 34:3), suggests that Zephaniah’s prophetic activities may have had a salutary effect in the reformation of that era. Thus a date of 635-630 B.C. is not unlikely.

Accepting such a date means that the historical setting has advanced little beyond that of Nahum and Habakkuk. Externally the Pax Assyriaca held sway. Of that great era W. W. Hallo observes that, in addition to the Assyrian rulers’ attention to administrative matters and details relative to extensive building projects,

literature and learning too came into their own, and the vast library assembled by Assurbanipal at Nineveh is only the most dramatic expression of the new leisure. In spite of their protestations to the contrary, the later Sargonid kings were inclined to sit back and enjoy the fruits of empire.657

Yet it is somewhat ironic that Ashurbanipal, who had already reigned some thirty years by the time of Zephaniah and under whom the zenith of Assyrian affluence and culture was achieved, was possessed by a personal weakness that would be mirrored in the Assyrian state itself.

It was a defect of Ashurbanipal as a king that he had nothing in him of the great strategist, statesman, or soldier. He was as barren in political insight as he was rich in vindictiveness. It was his misfortune that he was called to be king when by inclination he was a scholastic.658

Because Ashurbanipal was preoccupied with the belles lettres that inspired him to collect the ancient texts, particularly those dealing with traditional wisdom and religious matters,659 affairs in the empire began to show signs of the decay that would hasten its demise a scant generation after his death in 626 B.C.660 Indeed, already by Zephaniah’s day “an uneasy consciousness of impending disaster overhung the court, and not all the claims of a less and less honest history could conceal the danger on every side.”661

Under such conditions it is small wonder that Josiah was increasingly free to pursue his reform policies, extending them even to the northern kingdom (2 Kings 23:1-25; 2 Chron. 34:32-35:19).662 In addition, Judah could know a political and economic resurgence that it had not experienced since the days of Hezekiah.

The time was ripe for national self-assertion expressed in the progressive steps of Josiah’s reformation.... So Judah saw the dawning of the day of freedom, though Josiah proceeded cautiously step by step before venturing into the Assyrian province of Samaria.663

Leon Wood remarks:

The three decades of Josiah’s reign were among the happiest in Judah’s experience. They were characterized by peace, prosperity, and reform. No outside enemies made war, the people could concentrate on constructive activity, and Josiah himself sought to please God by reinstituting matters commanded in the Mosaic Law.664

Zephaniah therefore lived in a critical time of transition. Externally, the Assyrian ship of state began to show the stress of age and, creaking and groaning in all its timbers and joints, floundered in the seas of economic and political adversity. The ancient Near East was in the grip of climactic change, for “the whole balance of power in the Near Eastern world shifted radically from what it had been for almost three hundred years. Assyria was in its death throes.”665 Internally, the relaxing of Assyrian pressure allowed Judah and its king the liberty to pursue the cause of righteousness without fear. It was an exciting and pivotal age in which to live. Zephaniah was to prove equal to its challenges. Indeed, he may well have been the Lord’s catalyst for the great reformation that would sweep across the land.


Although some concern has been raised with regard to many passages in the book that bears his name, Zephaniah has generally been accepted as the author of a substantial core of the material of the book, particularly its first part (1:1-2:3; see under Literary Features). As for the prophet himself, Zephaniah traces his patrilineage four generations to a certain Hezekiah. Jewish (e.g., Ibn Ezra, Kimchi) and Christian commentators alike have commonly identified this Hezekiah with the king by that name. Although Laetsch is doubtless correct in stating that “Zephaniah’s royal descent cannot be proved,”666 the unusual notice concerning four generations of family lineage indicates at the very least that Zephaniah came from a distinguished family. Perhaps he was of royal descent, but current scholarship rightly prefers to be cautious. L. Walker explains:

It has been commonly accepted that this Hezekiah was no less than the famous Judean king. This is not at all certain, however; and we have no other proof of any royal status for Zephaniah, despite the unusual mention of his great-great grandfather. Although genealogies are frequent in the OT, only Zephaniah among the prophetic books exhibits a lengthy genealogical note about the author. On the other hand, some scholars argue that since the words “king of Judah” are not added to Hezekiah’s name, the reference is not to King Hezekiah. Others explain this omission on the ground that “king of Judah” follows immediately after Josiah’s name. We simply lack conclusive evidence to this interesting question.667

Some scholars (e.g., Archer) have suggested that the time span between the birth of Hezekiah’s oldest son, Manasseh (c. 710 B.C.), and the birth of Josiah (c. 648 B.C.) is too short to allow four full generations, and others (e.g., Kapelrud) point out that Hezekiah was a common name in Judah (cf. 1 Chron. 3:23; Ezra 2:16; Neh. 7:21).

In fairness to those who believe that Zephaniah was of royal descent, however, none of these objections is conclusive. Perhaps the title “king of Judah” was omitted after Hezekiah’s name out of respect for the ruling king, Josiah, to whose name it is appended. The compressed time frame may not be significant in light of the ancient custom of marriage at an early age. The argument that Hezekiah was a common biblical name is misleading in that only two other Hezekiahs are mentioned, both from the postexilic period.

Further, a case can be made for Zephaniah’s royal descent. Wood observes that

Zephaniah is unusual in tracing his lineage over four generations. Since he is the only prophet that does this, there must be a reason, and that reason apparently lies in the identity of the fourth person mentioned. The name given is Hizkiah. The significance of this may well be that King Hezekiah is in mind.... The lineage he gives is Hezekiah, Amariah, Gedaliah, Cushi, and Zephaniah. Comparing this with the line of Judah’s kings, the following results: King Manasseh and Amariah were brothers, King Amon and Gedaliah were first cousins, King Josiah and Cushi were second cousins, and the three sons of Josiah, all of whom ruled (Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah), were third cousins of Zephaniah.668

In support of Wood’s position it could be suggested that, if Hezekiah’s son Amariah was born of a member of the king’s harem, perhaps no legal recognition was accorded him,669 so that he could have been older than Manasseh, a possibility allowing an expanded time frame from Hezekiah to Zephaniah’s day. Amariah could also have been born to one of Hezekiah’s daughters, who would remain unmentioned in the genealogies, and could have been older than Manasseh. Indeed, it is unlikely that Hezekiah, born in 741/40 B.C., had no children before 710 B.C. Under either scenario Zephaniah’s mentioning of Hezekiah would merely indicate his justifiable pride in his descent from the great king whose memory was held in high esteem (2 Kings 18:5).670

In fairness to those who dispute Zephaniah’s royal lineage, none of the arguments in favor of his descent from Hezekiah is conclusive. As Bullock remarks: “However appealing the identification of Hizkiyyah with King Hezekiah, it cannot be substantiated.”671

Whatever Zephaniah’s family associations might have been, he was thoroughly at home in Jerusalem and aware of conditions there (1:10-13). A man of keen spiritual sensitivity and moral perception, he decried the apostate and immoral hearts of the people, especially those who were in positions of leadership (1:4-6, 9, 17; 3:1-4, 7, 11). T. H. Robinson remarks:

Princes, judges, prophets, priests—all alike are faithless to their true vocation and function. It is the business of the princes to protect people—instead, they use their strength to pounce on and destroy men. It is the duty of the judges to assign property to its rightful owner—instead they cling to their causes till they have appropriated in bribes or fees all that is in question. It is the task of the Prophets to assure themselves that the oracles which they deliver are the genuine word of Yahweh—instead, they recklessly pour out unauthenticated “oracles” which can only deceive men. It is the work of the priests to distinguish between the holy and the profane, and to see that the true Divine instruction is given to the worshipper—instead, they have confused all religious distinctions and criminally distorted the revelation of Yahweh.672

Zephaniah denounced the materialism and greed that exploited the poor (1:8, 10-13, 18). He also was aware of world conditions and announced God’s judgment on the nations for their sins (2:4-15). Above all, God’s prophet had a deep concern for God’s reputation (1:6; 3:7) and for the well-being of all who humbly trust in Him (2:3; 3:9, 12-13).

Zephaniah was a man for his times. He had a lively expectation of Israel’s future felicity in the land of promise (3:10, 14-20). If he was a man of social prominence and therefore had the ear of Judah’s leadership, it reminds all of us who read his messages that God uses people of all social strata. Zephaniah’s life and ministry are a testimony that one man, yielded wholly to God, can effect great things.

Literary Context

Literary Features

Zephaniah writes to inform his readers of the coming Day of the Lord. His message is twofold: (1) this day is a judgment upon all nations and peoples, including God’s own covenant people, due to their sins against God and mankind; and (2) it is a day of purification for sin, when the redeemed of all nations shall join a regathered Israel in serving God and experiencing His blessings.673 This basic theme of judgment and its consequences is developed in two distinctive portions, the first of which serves notice of the judgment and furnishes a description of its severity (1:2-2:3) and the second of which depicts the extent and purposes of the judgment (2:4-3:20).

The early portion of Zephaniah begins with an announcement of God’s intention to bring judgment upon the whole earth (1:2-3), including apostate Judah and Jerusalem (1:4-6). Thus people are urged to “be silent before the Sovereign LORD” (1:7, NIV) who, as the divine host at a sacrificial meal, has invited His guests (the nations) to partake of the sacrifice (Judah) He has prepared (1:7-9). Those who in their godless greed have taken advantage of others are warned that they will lament over their lost material gain (1:10-13). The first half of the book comes to a climactic close with a powerful description of the coming Day of the Lord and all its attendant terrors (1:14-18) and then urges its readers to assemble before the Lord and seek His help in leading a humble and righteous life (2:1-3).

Zephaniah initiates the latter portion of his prophecy with a series of divine pronouncements against the peoples who had plagued God’s people: Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, Egyptians, Assyrians (2:4-15). He then denounces Jerusalem, whose people have strayed from God to follow debased and corrupt leaders (3:1-7). Once again he issues a warning: His people must listen carefully to God’s message, for His judgment is imminent and assured (3:8). The prophecy concludes by supplying the reason for the coming judgment. God will pour out His wrath not just for the sake of justice but that mankind might experience His cleansing (3:9). At a future time God will return His purified people to Jerusalem to serve Him in truth and sincerity (3:10-13). A redeemed and regathered Israel will rejoice in God and enjoy Him in everlasting felicity (3:14-20).

Thus Zephaniah, like several other OT books, is arranged as a bifid.674 This conclusion is reinforced by considering its structural components. (1) The section 1:1-2:3 forms an inclusio by means of the bookending theme of God’s dealing with the earth (1:2, 3; 2:2). A similar reference to the earth closes the second section (3:20). (2) The two halves of Zephaniah are arranged in complementary fashion: (a) pronouncements of judgment (1:2-6; 2:4-3:7) on the nations/earth (1:2-3; 2:4-15) and on Judah/Jerusalem (1:4-6; 3:1-7); (b) exhortations and warnings (1:7-13; 3:8); and (c) teachings concerning the Day of the Lord (1:14-2:3; 3:9-20), each of which is closed by admonitions (2:1-3; 3:14-20).

This bifid structure is accomplished by means of distinctive stitch-words. In the first portion of the book, the first stanza is linked to the second via the careful employment of the Tetragrammaton, while the second stanza is linked to the third by reference to the Day of the Lord. In the second portion of the book, judgment (3:5, 8) and the nations (3:6, 8) provide stitching between the pronouncement section (2:4-3:7) and the following exhortation (3:8); בִּי ( , because/for”) links the exhortation to the added teachings concerning the Day of the Lord (3:9-13, 14-20).

Each subunit likewise displays careful stitching. Thus the pronouncement against the earth (1:2-3) is linked to that against Judah/Jerusalem by the repetition of the phrase “cut off” (1:3, 4). One may also note the use of the Tetragrammaton and themes related to the Day of the Lord throughout the second and third stanzas (1:7-13; 1:14-2:3). In the second portion of the book, the pronouncement against the nations (2:4-15) is linked to that against Judah/Jerusalem via the employment of the word “woe” (2:5; 3:1), and the two strophes (3:9-13, 14-20) of the teaching stanza are stitched together with such ideas as “scattered” (3:10, 19) and “afraid/fear” (3:13, 16) as well as the phrase “in that day” (3:11, 16).675 The structural design is schematized in the chart on page 284.

Although Zephaniah does not display the literary genius of Nahum, several literary features are noteworthy. In keeping with his twofold purpose, two prophetic genres are evident: (1) positive prophetic sayings of hope (2:1-3; 3:9-13, 14-20); and (2) threats (judgment

Structure of Zephaniah




Declaration of the Day of the Lord’s Judgment


Details Concerning the Day of the Lord’s Judgment




Subject Matter



Subject Matter







On the Earth


      On the Nations (2:4-15)


“cut off”



On Judah/


      On Judah/Jerusalem (3:1-7)






(near is)


Exhortation (3:8)



The Day









Information (1:14-18)



      Information (3:9-13)


Instruction (2:1-3)



      Instruction (3:14-20)


oracles), whether to individuals (3:1-7), Judah and Jerusalem (1:4-6, 7-13), or the nations of the world (1:2-4; 2:4-15). Zephaniah makes use of exhortations (1:7-13; 3:8), two instructional admonitions (2:1-3; 3:14-20, the latter of which is almost hymnic in nature), lament (1:10-11), woes (2:4-7; 3:1-7), and pronouncements (1:2-3, 4-6; 2:4-15). Two narrative discourses giving detailed information are also present (1:14-18; 3:9-13).

In addition, Zephaniah utilizes metaphor and simile (1:7, 11, 12; 2:1, 2, 4-7, 9; 3:3, 8, 13, 16), literary/historical allusions (1:3; 2:4, 9; 3:9-10, 18), personification (1:14; 3:14-15, 16), anthropopocia (1:4, 12-13; 3:7, 8, 15), irony (1:11; 2:12), merismus (1:12), synecdoche (1:16; 2:11, 13, 14; 3:6), enallage (3:7), hendiadys (3:7, 19), chiasmus (3:19), alliteration and paronomasia (1:2, 15, 17; 2:1, 4, 7, 12(?); 3:10(?), 20), enjambment (1:9-12; 2:2, 3, 14; 3:3, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 18, 19, 20), and repetition and refrain (1:2, 3, 14, 15-16, 18; 2:2, 3; 3:14-15). Several key words punctuate the prophetic material: יוֹם ( yo‚m, “day”), 21 times; קָרוֹב ( qa„ro‚b, “near”), 10 times; אָסַף ( áa„sap, “gather”), אֶרֶץ ( áeres£, “earth”), and שֵׁם ( sŒe„m, “name”), 5 times each; שָׁפַט ( sŒa„pat£, “judge”), 4 times; פָּקַד( pa„qad, “punish/visit”) and קָבַץ ( qa„bas£, “gather/assemble”), 3 times each.

Some have suggested that Zephaniah made use of apocalyptic genre in his teachings concerning the Day of the Lord (e.g., Freeman, R. Smith). Thus G. A. Smith remarks:

From this flash upon the concrete, he returns to a vague terror, in which earthly armies merge in heavenly; battle, siege, storm, and darkness are mingled, and destruction is spread upon the whole earth. The shades of Apocalypse are upon us.676

Distinguishing between apocalyptic literature and prophetic eschatology is sometimes difficult, however. Thus P. D. Hanson emphasizes that though differences exist between prophetic eschatology and the eschatological material of apocalypse, there is also a strong element of continuity:

Definitions attempt to specify the essential difference between prophetic and apocalyptic eschatology: the prophets, affirming the historical realm as a suitable context for divine activity, understood it as their task to translate the vision of divine activity from the cosmic level to the level of the politico-historical realm of everyday life. The visionaries, disillusioned with the historical realm, disclosed their vision in a manner of growing indifference to and independence from the contingencies of the politico-historical realm, thereby leaving the language increasingly in the idiom of the cosmic realm of the divine warrior and his council. Despite this difference in the form of prophetic and apocalyptic eschatology, it must be emphasized that the essential vision of restoration persists in both, the vision of Yahweh’s people restored as a holy community in a glorified Zion. It is this basic continuity which compels us to speak of one unbroken strand extending throughout the history of prophetic and apocalyptic eschatology.677

Despite the overlap and continuity between prophetic eschatology and the eschatology of apocalypse, as Hanson acknowledges, some differences do exist. Most scholars add to the above distinction by noting in the apocalyptic writers attention to such matters as details of cataclysmic changes in the physical world, cosmic settings and events, and the universal resolution of all things—particularly good and evil—in the distant future. Moreover, all such details are usually related in a series of episodic happenings. Leon Morris follows A. S. Peake in adding further that “speaking generally, the prophets foretold the future that should arise out of the present, while the apocalyptists foretold the future that should break into the present.”678

Restraint is called for in affirming that Zeph. 1:14-18 is an apocalypse, even though some characteristics of apocalyptic language are present. It does not suit the definition of apocalypse given by John J. Collins:

A genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world (italics his).679

Thus while Zeph. 1:14-18 contains material of a sort that would one day become prominent in apocalyptic literature, it is not an apocalypse as such. Rather, it displays themes that are found in prophetic eschatology.

In harmony with other OT prophets who spoke of the Day of the Lord, Zephaniah sees that time as one of fearful darkness and gloominess (1:15; cf. Isa. 13:6-16; Joel 1:15; 2:2, 10), awesome earthly and celestial phenomena (1:15; cf. Isa. 13:9, 10, 13; Joel 2:30, 31; 3:14, 15 [HB 3:3, 4; 4:14, 15]; Amos 5:20; Zech. 14-1-7; 2 Pet. 3:10), and a divine wrath that brings destruction, devastation, and death (1:14-18; cf. Isa. 13:15, 16; Obad. 15, 16; Zech. 14:1-3). Zephaniah’s closing messages of hope (3:9-20) are likewise in keeping with other prophecies concerning the Day of the Lord as a time of salvation and righteousness (Joel 2:32; 3:17 [HB 3:5; 4:17]; Zech. 14:2, 3) and the return of the Messiah (Zech. 14:4-7) to effect a worldwide climate of peace, prosperity, and everlasting joy (Joel 3:18, 20 [HB 4:18, 20]; Zech. 14:4-10). Zephaniah’s prediction of warfare (1:16-18) is likewise mirrored in the other prophets (e.g., Isa. 27; Ezek. 38-39; Joel 3:9-17 [HB 4:9-17]; Zech. 14:1-3; cf. Rev. 19:11-21).680

To the extent that Zephaniah utilizes cosmic themes and extreme language he thereby