S. D. Snyman, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary)

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).

Snyman, Nahum, Habakkuk, ZephaniahThe 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:

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.

 

 

Robin L. Routledge, Hosea (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary)

Routledge, Robin L. Hosea. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2020. xxxiii+181 pp. Pb. $25.00   Link to IVP Academic  

This new volume in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series replaces the 1989 volume by David Allan Hubbard. Routledge previously published Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (IVP Academic 2012) as well as several articles on the prophets.

Routledge, HoseaThe thirty-six-page introduction dates Hosea to 750-725 B.C., making Hosea a later contemporary to Amos. This implies the book was completed before Josiah’s reforms, and therefore is not part of the so-called Deuteronomistic redaction. In fact, Routledge suggests Hosea may have influenced Deuteronomistic movement in the late seventh century.

The immediate context for the book is the resurgence of the Assyrian Empire under Tiglath-Pilesar III, but also the syncretic worship in the northern kingdom Israel. Routledge includes a few pages outlining what can be known about Baal worship from Ugarit and other sources. Although this worship may have involved cult prostitution, it did not necessarily include the idea of hieros gamos, “sacred marriage.” The problem is Hosea is Israel’s syncretic worship which confused Yahweh and Baal.

The introduction sets Hosea in the larger context of the Old Testament. Although Routledge does not find arguments for a unifying redaction of the Book of the Twelve convincing, that Hosea is the first book of the collection may be significant. The book is clear: Israel’s unfaithfulness will result in punishment, but unfaithfulness will not ultimately affect Yahweh’s love for Israel. The book hopes for a final restoration in the future. This exile/restoration theme resonates throughout the Book of the Twelve. He also traces connections between Hosea, Deuteronomy, and Jeremiah (suggesting Jeremiah may have made use of Hosea). He briefly discusses several theories of composition, but it ultimately favors the unity of the book. Routledge finds it “unnecessary to accept the view that the book was compiled even later, for a posting exilic Judah during the Persian” (p. 19; contra Ben Zvi).

In the preface to the commentary, he observed that the book of Hosea is challenging for the commentator because it includes some of the most difficult Hebrew in the Old Testament. It often differs from the Septuagint, leading to suggestions that Masoretic text is corrupt. On the other hand, Routledge thinks Hosea’s peculiar dialect was unfamiliar to the Septuagint translators, resulting in more unusual translations than other books. The poetry in Hosea is not conventional and it makes a great deal of use of similes, metaphors, and wordplay. In addition, the judgment speeches form a judicial framework which may have been unfamiliar to translators.

With respect to the theology of the book, Routledge highlights Israel’s sin, their impending judgment, and their ultimate hope. The people no longer know the Lord (4:1), so their worship and sacrifices are unacceptable. They are stubborn like an unruly animal (4:16). But the Lord is unwilling to utterly destroy Israel, so the book is filled with a message of hope for a restoration of the broken relationship (11:10-11).

Hosea is the first prophet to make an explicit connection between the covenant and marriage, idolatry and adultery. Routledge argues Gomer is a promiscuous woman (rather than a prostitute) and was faithful at the beginning of the marriage. This better fits the prophetic view that the relationship between the Lord and Israel began well. He also thinks the woman in 3:1 is Gomer, so that chapter three is a restoration of the marriage to its original state. He also briefly deals with criticism of Hosea’s marriage metaphor which describe it as “patriarchal gender stereotyping,” misogynistic, as advocating sexual violence and humiliation toward women, and even as pornographic. He admits it is patriarchal (as the whole ancient Near East was patriarchal), but it goes too far to call the marriage metaphor misogynistic since it was intended to describe Yahweh’s relationship with Israel. The marriage metaphor emphasizes God’s sovereignty and the consequences for sin, but also divine love and vulnerability. Routledge covered this material in his article, “Hosea’s Marriage Reconsidered” (Tyndale Bulletin 69 (2018): 25–42).

A third theological issue in Hosea is the idea of hesed, which is mentioned in Hosea more than any other prophetic book. In the rest of the Old Testament, hesed is a divine attribute, but in Hosea it most often relates to human conduct (p. 32). Israel has been unfaithful to the covenant and mistreated those need hesed. In this section Routledge distills his much more detailed article, “Ḥesed as Obligation: A Re-Examination” (Tyndale Bulletin 46 (1995): 179–96).

The body of the commentary covers the fourteen chapters of Hosea in 144 pages. The book is divided into major sections (1-3; 4-11; 12-14) and shorter pericopes. Commentary units begin with a short setting the context, then a running commentary covering a few verses per paragraph. The commentary is based on the English text and often compares major translations, but Routledge comments on Hebrew (appearing in transliteration). Commentaries and other secondary literature are cited intext, footnotes are used for additional discussion or cross references. The commentary is concise and clear. The final section of each section is entitled “meaning” and provides a summary and theological comment on the section. These comments occasionally touch on biblical theology and Christian significance, but Routledge is more focused on the theology of Hosea.

Conclusion. Like other newer volumes of the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, Routledge’s commentary on Hosea is clear and concise, shedding light on the text of Scripture for the pastor, teacher or student preparing to present Hosea to their congregations. It is not overly distracted with critical issues or syntactical minutia, yet Routledge demonstrates mastery both critical issues and the Hebrew text in order to focus on what Hosea says.

 

Other reviewed commentaries in third Tyndale series:

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.

 

Thomas Renz, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (NICOT)

Renz, Thomas. The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. NICOT; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2021. xxxix+703 pp. Hb; $56.00.   Link to Eerdmans 

Thomas Renz is the rector of Monken Hadley. Previously, he taught Old Testament and Hebrew at Oak Hill Theological College (1997-2009). Renz published a revision of his 1997 University of Bristol dissertation as The Rhetorical Function of the Book of Ezekiel (VTSup 76; Brill, 1999). He has contributed many articles on these books and a monograph on Hebrew Poetry, Colometry and Accentuation in Hebrew Prophetic Poetry (​KUSATU 4; Hartmut Senner, Waltrop 2003). This new volume of the New International Commentary on the Old Testament replaces O. Palmer Robertson’s highly respected commentary on these three obscure Minor Prophets (Eerdmans, 1990).

Nahum, Habakkuk, and ZephaniahRenz states in the preface he tried to confine himself to matters which “illuminate our understanding of the received Hebrew text” (xv). Initially he did not want to be overly concerned with text-critical or redactional issues. But as the commentary progressed, he realized some discussion of source, form and reduction criticism was necessary. But these are not what drives this commentary. Technical details appear in the commentary under the heading “composition” or in the footnotes. This will make the commentary accessible to pastors without being overwhelmed by technical details.

In the twenty-page general introduction, Renz suggests prophetic books were written soon after they were uttered, and he is skeptical about reduction criticism in various sources theories suggested for these books. It is uncontroversial to speak of the unity of the twelve Minor Prophets even if there is no actual agreement on what constitutes that unity. Renz suggests that Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah were grouped together because they share the same setting, the changing of the empires regarding the life of Judah. “Nahum speaks to a people for whom Assyria seemed invincible, predicting the fall of Nineveh and the end of its empire. Zephaniah speaks into the period when Assyrian domination was less keenly felt, but the Neo-Babylonian Empire was not yet on the horizon. Habakkuk addresses the problem that the divinely promised rise of the Neo-Babylonian Empire merely substituted one evil for another.” (p. 20).

The introduction also has a brief sketch of the implied historical setting of these three books, the late Neo-Assyrian and early Neo-Babylonian Period. Nahum dates before 612 B.C., Habakkuk a bit later, just after the rise of Neo-Babylon and Zephaniah to the reign of Josiah. This gives a range of 660-600 B.C. for the three books.

Each commentary section uses the book’s superscription as an introduction to the book (thirty-five pages for Nahum, twenty-four pages for Habakkuk, and twenty-seven for Zephaniah). The first section, Profile of the Book, begins with the superscription and moves to what he calls the “macro structure.” This is more than just an outline since Renz includes literary and rhetorical notes as well. In this section he includes language, style, redactional history, and the textual witness. In the textual witness section Renz compares the MT with the LXX, any Dead Sea Scrolls available and other versions and briefly summarizes the difficulties which emerge. For Habakkuk and Zephaniah, Renz sketches the historical setting of the book (omitted for Nahum). However, for Nahum he has an extended discussion of the development of the book.

Each of the individual introductions conclude with the section on the rhetorical function of the book divided into five sections. First, he summarizes the message of the profit in its original context, then he places it into the context of the Twelve Minor Prophets in the larger biblical canon.

Following this is a history of interpretation. Renz begins this section with the Dead Sea Scrolls. For example, in 4Q169 the pesher interpretation of Nahum turns Assyrian brutality into Hasmonean cruelty under Alexander Jannaeus. He briefly comments on the fragmentary Zephaniah pesher (4Q170) but 4QpHab is missing from the history of interpretation for Habakkuk (Renz mentions it under textual witnesses for Habakkuk). For Christian interpretation he comments briefly on ancient fathers, Renaissance, Reformation, and modern critical writers. Renz does not intend this as an exhaustive survey and these books are not often mentioned in ancient sources.

Finally, he discusses the place of the individual prophet in the church today. Nahum celebrates God’s sovereignty and justice, and Nahum invites readers to join the celebration. The book of Nahum becomes a token of God’s final judgment over evil. Remarkably, Nahum is a book of comfort for people who are suffering at the hands of evil, people who are helpless abandoned in afraid. Habakkuk invites the reader to reflect on the breakdown of the good order, the weakness of the Torah to restore justice and the role of God in this world. Renz suggests Habakkuk teaches that thoughtful, engaged prayer, informed by scripture, can help discern what is really going on in an evil world. Zephaniah is clear wealth and power count for nothing in the face of God’s judgment. In fact, there may be benefits to being powerless.

The body of the commentary begins with a new translation. This includes extensive textual and lexical notes often spanning several pages. For example, On Zephaniah 2:5-13 the notes run eight pages (through note nnn). The translation is often stunning. Renz strives for clear yet moving English phrases which reflect the heart of the Hebrew text. I would like to have his translation gathered into a few pages so one could read the whole of the book in a few pages.  Following his translation is a section commenting on the composition of the section, mostly form and redactional notes, but Renz also comments on rhetorical strategies in these brief sections.

The commentary is verse-by-verse with remarks on nearly every word of the verse. Renz provides clear exegesis of the Hebrew text, with all Hebrew appearing in transliteration. A non-specialist will have no trouble following the commentary. Virtually all secondary literature appears in extensive footnotes. Renz makes extensive use of recent European commentaries such as Jörg Jeremias on Nahum (BKAT; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2019), Heinz-Josef Fabry on Habakkuk (HThKAT; Herder, 2019), Huber Irsigler on Zephaniah (HThKAT; Herder, 2002), and Johannes Vlaardingerbroek on Zephaniah (HCOT; Peters 1999). Renz’s commentary may be the only access to the resources for many English readers.

Each commentary unit concludes with a reflection which draws a few conclusions and occasionally connects the section with the larger canon of scripture. For example, reflecting on is exegesis of Habakkuk 2:4-5, Renz asks, “who are the righteous in Habakkuk?” The righteous are those who are victims of injustice and the inability of the Torah to set things right (p. 294). This leads him naturally into a brief discussion of the use of Habakkuk in Romans 1:17. Righteousness from God as a matter of Faith from beginning to end. Habakkuk is to continue to trust God and cling to his commands despite the apparent uselessness of such obedience.

There are several excurses scattered throughout the book: The Relationship between Nahum 1:15 (2:1) and Isaiah 52:7 (106-09); The Destruction Nineveh (129-30); Different Hebrew Terms for Lion and Lion Imagery in Assyria (141-46); The Assyrian Campaigns against Egypt (164-70); “Look You Scoffers” or “Look at the Nations” (239-41, on Habakkuk 1:5); Significant words in Zephaniah (431-32); Finding the Book of the Law (435-43).

Conclusion. Thomas Renz’s commentary on Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah is an excellent exegetical commentary which demonstrates mastery of the Hebrew text and provides sufficient historical setting to understand with clarity the text of these obscure prophets. This the most extensive commentary on Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah and will serve both the those teaching these prophets in the academy and church for many years.

 

Eerdmans has recently reprinted O. Palmer Robertson’s commentary in their Eerdmans Classic Biblical Commentaries series.

Five Questions with Thomas Renz at EerdWorld.

Reviews of other recent commentaries in the NICOT series:

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.