5. Nahum and Habakkuk: The God who Acts in JudgmentRelated Media
Words to Anchor your Soul
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NLT)
Our study has moved out of the Assyrian Crisis period now that Assyria has destroyed the Northern Kingdom. We now focus on the Babylonians, the new world power. You may want to review the chart in the Appendix section “Understanding the Prophets.”
Part One Study
In this section we will study the short book written by the prophet Nahum (meaning comfort). Nahum, like Jonah a century before,1 warns the Assyrians, the conquerers of Israel, that their capital city Nineveh will fall and their empire will be destroyed. We look at history and see that the Babylonians did conquer them. You likely remember that Jonah’s warning resulted in their repentance years before, and God responded in mercy. But now the Assyrians have turned back to their old ways.
“Jesus said that ‘all who take the sword will perish by the sword’ (Matt. 26:52) . . . . In the conquest of the ancient world, the Assyrians were merciless and cruel. Their atrocities included everything from burning children to death and chopping off hands. In many ways, the Book of Nahum is a theology of the maxim of the sword.”2
And that’s why we are using a sword as our icon for this book.
As you read Nahum, think in terms of this short outline —unless you have time to outline it yourself:
- A descriptive psalm about God 1:1-8
- Promises of God’s deliverance of Judah 1:9-2:2
- Prophecies of the destruction of Nineveh 2:3-3:19
Read the short three-chapter book of Nahum, considering these questions:
- What does the psalm in 1:1-8 teach about God?
- How would you be encouraged by Nahum’s message if you lived in Judah at that time?
The pictures Nahum paints about the coming judgment on Nineveh and all of Assyria are difficult. Nahum made clear that the sentence was just because of their treatment of Israel, which essential disputed God’s rule (Nahum 1:2-3, 8-9,11; 2:2; 3:1). Consider how you might feel if it was your country and family that the Assyrians destroyed. Their destruction would have been very good news to the nations around Assyria—in the same way that the death of Osama Bin Laden was to citizens of the United States—because Judah would be spared. Think about J. Vernon McGee’s point as well: "Earlier, Jonah had brought a message to Nineveh which revealed the love of God, and now the message of the Book of Nahum reveals the justice of God—the two go together.”3
- In light of those thoughts, what are your impressions and feelings about God’s treatment of Nineveh?
*** Research the Assyrians or their capital Nineveh in your study Bible, commentaries, or in Dr. Constable’s notes.4 Journal your insights.
Just as Nahum predicted, in 612 B.C. Nineveh was destroyed by an alliance of the Medes and Babylonians.5
Part Two Study
Our final two parts of this week’s study focus on the book of Habakkuk. We use an ancient watchtower as our image for this book because Habakkuk waited to hear from God in such a place. Although at this time the line of Davidic kings still occupied the throne in Jerusalem, they lived under an increasing threat from Babylon.
Have you ever dealt with a very difficult time when everything seemed to be going wrong, and then it got worse despite your prayers? You may have questioned God about what he was doing. If you’ve ever been in that situation, you have company in the prophet Habakkuk, who had the courage and honesty to ask God what he was doing and why. In the end Habakkuk trusted God as his anchor when he didn’t understand God’s plan.
The message of Habakkuk dates from the seventh century B.C. just as Nahum’s does.6
The book of Habakkuk is unique; rather than relaying God’s messages for the Judeans, it records a series of dialogues between Habakkuk and God, ending with Habakkuk’s declaration of faith. Here is an outline that may help you navigate the book more easily:7
I. Superscription (1:1)
II. First cycle (1:2-11)
A. Habakkuk’s lament (1:2-4)
B. God’s response (1:5-11)
III. Second cycle (1:12-2:20)
A. Habakkuk’s lament (1:12-2:1)
B. God’s response (2:2-20)
IV. Habakkuk’s prayer (3:1-19)
Read Habakkuk 1:1-2:20, and journal as you consider these questions:
- Summarize and comment on Habakkuk’s two complaints (laments) and God’s responses. FYI: The singular “he” in 2:4-5 likely refers to the king of Babylon and by extension to his nation, and in Habakkuk 2:6-20 God pronounces five woes on the Chaldeans of Babylon, explaining why they deserve judgment.
*** Focus specifically on Habakkuk’s comments about God’s character in 1:12-14, journaling your thoughts and feelings.
- What do you learn about God’s judgment on those who belong to him from God’s answers to Habakkuk’s first two questions (1:5-11; 2:2b-5)?
- What is God saying to you today from Habakkuk?
Part Three Study
The verses in our “Words to Anchor your Soul” on the first page of this week’s study come from the final section of Habakkuk. This passage is one of the most beautiful biblical expressions of trust in God during times of trouble. Knowing these verses will help anchor your faith in him when life is confusing.
Read Habakkuk’s prayer of Chapter 3, journaling about these questions:
- The words and imagery for the power and judgment of God in this prayer are overwhelming. What of these resonate most with you? Why?
*** Compare Psalm 46 with Habakkuk 3:17-19, recording the truths about God that anchor the psalmist and the prophet.
- What fears and terrors concerning your own life or the future of your nation help you identify with Habakkuk’s reaction to the coming judgment in 3:16?
- Journal a prayer of trust, spelling out those fears as Habakkuk does in 3:17-19. You may even rely on some of his words and just insert your own struggles of faith.
I struggle with fear. Because my mother was constantly afraid, I grew up believing that I should worry—about everything. Only as an adult did I learn that fear is the opposite of faith. Acting in fear and acting in faith cannot co-exist. Even today the question for me is whether I trust God or not—no matter what happens, so when faced with a strong fear, it helps me to figure out the worst case scenario. Then I can pray by praising the specific characteristics of God that can handle even that problem—or ask him to use it in ways to achieve his kingdom purposes.
As my mother aged, her habit of watching certain political talk shows increased her fears and worries. The reports on such shows, often loosely based on facts, are designed to create fear and political alliances—and of course ratings. Without stories that appeal to people’s prejudices and fears, such shows would have no audience. Eventually, I suggested that Mother quit watching the shows that multiplied her worry and entrust the situations to God. Blocking out those negative voices made a huge difference in her joy.
I often remind myself that I shouldn’t ever make decisions out of fear. I need to block out those voices because they aren’t of God. God wants us to walk daily by faith and act in love, even when there are risks.
Reading Habakkuk’s words of trust in God whatever his judgment brings (Hab. 3:17-19) helps me trust him and love others when I begin to fear. When I worry about running out of money at the end of my life, I give extra away. When I fear for the future of our nation, I consider why the American church deserves God’s judgment (1 Peter 4:17) and beg for mercy for us all. Even if I lose all that I cherish on earth, I pray for God to give me faith to know that he will hold on to me with his powerful, loving hands.
1 According to internal evidence, the book of Nahum appears to be authored between 663 when the Egyptian city of Thebes fell (Nahum 3:8-10) and the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C.
2 Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary, Eds., Earl Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, and H. Wayne House (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999),1081.
3 J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 3:815. Quoted by Dr. Thomas L. Constable’s notes on Nahum at http://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/ot/nahum/nahum.htm#_edn14
4 To remind you, Dr. Thomas L. Constable’s notes on the whole Bible are available without charge for study purposes: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes.htm
5 John H. Walton, Victor H Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, Note on Isaiah 7:17. (Downers Grove, IL: 2000), 594.
6 Parts of the book seem to predate the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. when the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians, while others suggest a later date. This battle occurred some 80 years after King Hezekiah, the ruler during the days that Micah prophesied as we studied last week.
7 ESV Study Bible, “Introduction to Habakkuk,” 1720.