Sunday, October 23, 2011

Scripture Sunday: The Books of Nahum and Habakkuk

Nahum's prophecy is against the Assyrian city of Nineveh. Nineveh was a big non-Israelite city that had repented and followed God after Jonah had preached against them, but now it's been something like a hundred years since that event. Nineveh is due for another judgment. Verse 3 of chapter 1 explains, "The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked", so this justice has been well-earned by the Ninevites and God isn't going to let them get by without punishment. However, even if the Lord sounds fearsome and terrifying in these circumstances, Nahum is quick to remind us in verse 7 that "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him." His mighty power can be used in a fatherly, protective way as well as in the justice-serving capacity.

Most of the three chapters of Nahum are just focused on the impending destruction of Nineveh, and on the crimes the city has committed: "Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not; The noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels, and of the pransing horses, and of the jumping chariots." (3:1-2). It sounds like a horrible place, and the destruction it's about to experience is in proportion to its crimes, and the very last thought in the book is related to the grievous mess that Nineveh had become: "for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?"

The book of Habakkuk is another brief one with just three chapters, and it's more of a personal book. It opens with the prophet Habakkuk (a mysterious character about whom nothing is known) talking directly to God and lamenting about the evil behavior of the citizens of Judah and the way that God has not been answering his prayers. "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!" God tells him that the Chaldeans(Babylonians) are going to attack Judah, and that this attack will be Judah's punishment for wrongdoing. Chapter 2 delivers an important line which becomes a key part of New Testament teaching later: "but the just shall live by his faith" (2:4). I've always understood that to mean that no amount of good behavior can really put a person in a right standing with God--his standards are too high for us to meet through sheer effort. However, if we love God and all our faith is placed in him, we will have life.

Chapter 3 is actually a specially composed prayer that was meant to be sung with musical accompaniment.

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