The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk and Zepheniah

By O. Palmer Robertson
Grand Rapids : Eerdmans (1990). 357 Pages.

Reviewed by
2.1 (Spring 1991) : 120-121

Many readers may recognize the author's name from his earlier work, The Christ of the Covenants. O. Palmer Robertson brings a unique blend of ministry experience to his writing. He not only taught for twenty years at Reformed, Westminster, and Covenant Theological Seminaries, but also currently pastors Wallace Memorial Presbyterian Church in Hyattsville, Maryland.

In his discussion of the Redemptive-Historical framework of the prophets Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, he traces Judah's decline from Hezekiah to Jehoiachin, detailing the period's spiritual high and low points. This background is central to the three prophets' messages. "Because Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah all ministered essentially to the same constituency and labored within thirty years of one another" (p. 17), Robertson selects theological issues relating to them as a group. Curiously absent from all three books is any trace of Messianism (p. 17), a hiatus perhaps best explained by a common "delusion with the historical experience of kingship in Israel" (p. 17). Kingship had ironically failed because it was built on a false assumption, that according to the land and dynastic promises to Abraham and David, respectively, both Jerusalem and her kings were indestructible. History would correct their misgivings, but rising against a tide of opposition, all three prophets challenged both king and subjects with the impending threat of God's wrath, but not without "full confidence that the redemptive purposes of God would be realized (cf. Nah. 1:14; Hab. 2:4; 3:18-19; Zeph. 3:9-20)" (p. 18).

The centrality of God, a second and broader theological rubric discussed by the author, is the focus in discussions of the doctrines of the Justice, Judgment, Covenant, and Salvation of God. Because Judah's error was rooted in its wrong thinking about God and the nature of His promises, all three prophets needed to address major doctrinal misconceptions.

In his discussion "Shape of the Prophecies," Robertson underscores the importance of historical referents. Biblical history not only provides the context for appropriate interpretation of prophecy, but also occasionally functions as the prophecy itself, in a manner of speaking. Robinson argues, "But if the genuineness of Yahweh's intentions in history rests on the historical fulfillments of the prophet's word, then of course it matters whether the prophet spoke before or after the event being prophesied" (p. 335). In short, any attempt to do away with a historical frame of reference also tampers with the apologetic credibility of historical space-time fulfillment.

In his comments on the individual books, the author frequently refers to related NT passages as well as timeless theological inferences and current applications to twentieth-century situations.

While maintaining a strong rhetorical/homiletical emphasis, he neglects neither literary aspects of Scripture such as style, structure, and poetic parallelism, nor critical introductory matters such as date and authorship, unity, authenticity, and text. A select bibliography and analysis of contents for each of the three books precedes the author's verse-by-verse commentary. All is nicely indexed by subject, author, Scripture, and Hebrew word.

The Bible student will find in this fine contribution to the NICOT series a readable and useful discussion of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. The author is to be commended especially for his sensitivity to those preparing sermons and Bible studies.