Snyman, S. D. Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2021. xxii+139 pp. Pb. $20.00 Link to IVP Academic
This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the original 120-page volume by David W. Baker, originally published in 1988. S. D. Snyman is research associate in Old and New Testament studies at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He previously contributed a commentary on Malachi in the HCOT series (Peeters, 2014).
The commentary has a brief general introduction to the prophets. Since these prophets were well acquainted with the political world beyond Judah, the reader must be informed about the world situation and the internal politics and cultural practices in Judah. Although much of the prophecy in these three short books concerns the future doom of the nations, they are theological and part of the overall canon of scripture. Despite this observation, Snyman does not connect these three books intra-canonically, and he has little to say on how these three obscure prophets contribute to the overall canon. The major exception is a brief note on Habakkuk 2:4 in the New Testament.
Nahum (thirty-nine pages) is all about bloodthirsty revenge on the Assyrian Empire and the fall of Nineveh. He suggests a range of dates after 663 B. C. and before the fall of Thebes in 612 B.C. based on Nahum 3:8-10. Snyman sets the historical context from Tiglath-Pilesar III through the reign of the Judean king Manasseh. He suggests the book has a high literary quality and only briefly deals with occasional challenges to the unity of the book. With respect to theology, Nahum presents a God who is a God of justice, manifest in wrath and vengeance. Snyman suggests the book is written for the individual who is on the brink of losing hope in the midst of violence and oppression.
The style of Habakkuk (forty-six pages of commentary) suggests a liturgical setting. Nothing is known about the prophet, although there is a legend Habakkuk was the son of the Shunamite woman (2 Kings 4:16) or Isaiah’s watchman (Isa 21:6, cf., Hab 2:1). Habakkuk is also mentioned in the apocryphal story of Daniel, Bel and the Dragon. As Snyman comments, “none of these have historical value” (46). He dates the book to the rise of Babylon and the first deportation of Judeans, between 605 and 597 B.C. He only briefly mentions Bernhard Duhm’s fourth century B.C. dating based on the Chaldeans as the Kittim. Although chapter 3 is a different genre than the first two, Snyman does not see any evidence for multiple sources. If a later editor added the poem in chapter three from another source, it was “skillfully done” and the book is still a literary unit with a “climax of a confession of faith and a renewed trust in God” (49).
Regarding the theology of Habakkuk, the book does indeed address theodicy, the question of why God permits evil. Habakkuk receives a complicated answer. First, humans are incapable of understanding God’s way of handling world affairs. Second, the righteous must “keep faith.” Although there is a promise the wicked will not endure, this may not be a satisfying answer for a contemporary reader.
Snyman dates Zephaniah (forty-six pages of commentary) to the reign of Josiah, 639-609 B.C. He sketches that history and attempts to narrow the date further by pointing to Zephaniah 1:8 (the royal household wears foreign clothes). There is no reference to Josiah’s reforms in the book, so “it might even be the case that Zephaniah’s prophecies prompted Josiah to begin his reforms even before the discovery of the book of the Law” (95).
For Snyman, Zephaniah is “thoroughly theological in nature” (96). The book presents the Lord as the God of creation who is about to destroy the earth because of the sins of Judah and Jerusalem. Judah is indifferent to God, and Zephaniah accuses Judah of idolatry and worshiping the Lord in inappropriate ways. God will execute his judgment on the “day of the Lord,” the most important theme in Zephaniah. In this case, the Day of the Lord refers to the soon destruction of Jerusalem. Yet in all of this, there is a glimmer of hope because the Lord is also the God of Salvation. In the final section of the book, the Lord declares his love for his people and promises to gather them and deal with all their oppressors (3:14-20).
Like other Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, the body of the commentary focuses on the English text, only rarely referring to the Hebrew text (in transliteration). All secondary sources are cited in-text and there are no footnotes. Nevertheless, Snyman’s commentary is a model of careful exegesis and analysis of the text presented in clear prose which illuminates the text of these three obscure prophets for both profession and laypersons.
Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:
- Robin Routledge, Hosea
- Tchavdar S. Hadjiev, Joel and Amos
- Daniel C. Timmer, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah
- David G. Peterson, Hebrews
- Thomas R. Schreiner, 1 Corinthians
- Ian Paul, Revelation
NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.