Of Nahum we know nothing more than is contained in his three chapters, which are entirely focused on the certain destruction which Nineveh and the whole Assyrian empire will suffer because of their cruelty, rapacity and wickedness. Whereas other prophets had stressed Israel’s comparable sins or even regarded Assyria’s oppression as God instrument of punishment, there is nothing of that here. We may presume that he spoke these words of comfort (this is the root meaning of his name) to his fellow-countrymen when Assyria was trampling over everyone and seemed invincible. The message we can take from his graphic celebration of Assyria’s downfall is the assurance that God will ultimately put an end to injustice and oppression, though His timescale will often stretch human patience.
This impatience is in evidence right at the start of the eighth prophet, Habakkuk: “How long, O Lord, shall I cry, and You will not hear. I cry out to You of violence, and You will not save.” There follows a description of the advancing Babylonians (called Chaldeans) and the terrible destruction they left in their wake. Habakkuk takes his stand on his watchtower in the hope of receiving an answer. But God gives him a vision, which he is told will be fulfilled in God’s own good time. Retribution will indeed come, but not in accordance with our time-scale. “The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him”. This verse introduces Chapter 3, which is a poetic description of the appearance of the Lord God in majesty, reminiscent of Psalm 104. The Lord God will come to punish iniquity (vv 13-14) and deliver His people. The devastation of warfare, even when it results in the overthrow of the enemy, can be hugely damaging, but in two magnificent verses the prophet voices his confidence that God will bring us through. These verses (c 3 vv 17-18) have been taken up into our hymn book in Cowper’s lines: “Though vine nor fig tree neither Their wonted fruit should bear, Though all the fields be withered, Nor flock nor herd be there, Yet, God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice, For, still in God confiding, I cannot but rejoice.” The Christian’s hope, of course, extends beyond this life, but Habakkuk’s confidence reminds us that we are no less under God’s protection here and now.
A little earlier in date than Nahum and Habakkuk, Zephaniah, like them, proclaims the destruction of all those whose immoral conduct is incompatible with the sovereignty of God’s holiness: “All those who are settled on their lees, that say in their heart: the Lord will not do any good, neither will He do evil” (c 1 v 12). This includes Assyria, Moab, the Philistines, even Ethiopians (c 2), but also Jerusalem, whose princes, judges, prophets and priests have profaned what is holy and done violence to the law (c 2 vv 3-4). But a faithful remnant will return from all the lands to which they have been scattered and they and all nations will acknowledge God’s sovereignty: “I will make you to be a name and a praise among all the peoples of the earth” (c 3 v 20).