Old Testament Lesson 49 (Nahum; Habakkuk; Zephaniah)
November 27–December 3


The Book of Nahum

Nahum was one of the twelve prophets of the Old Testament with shorter books (though by no means reflecting messages of lesser import).

Nahum’s ministry probably occurred between 663–606 BC  He was a native of the small community of Elkosh in Galilee. Scholarly opinion varies concerning the precise date of his ministry, some judging that it was written during the latter part of the eighth century BC (during the reign of Hezekiah) and others concluding that it was written in the mid-to-late seventh century BC His book is a prophecy against the people of the City of Nineveh in Assyria, which was given before the Fall of Nineveh in 606 BC.

Nahum prophesied the destruction of Nineveh as the seat of the Assyrian empire and elevate this image as a symbol for the defeat of all evil in opposition to the triumph of the Kingdom of the Lord at the Second Coming.

Key Sections:

— Chapter 1   The Lord’s design in bringing mercy to the righteous and judgment to the wicked.
— Chapters 2–3   The fate of Nineveh as an archetype of the degenerate kingdom of pride and idolatry.

Nahum’s Message:  The Wicked Will Be Destroyed

— He testified of the Lord’s great power and that the wicked will be overthrown.
— “The Burden of Nineveh” means “the prophecy against Nineveh.”
— Nineveh was the capital of Assyria; the prophecy is against all of Assyria.
— Jonah fled from the Lord because he did not want to call Nineveh to repentance. But when he finally accepted the Lord’s call, Nineveh repented and was saved.
— By Nahum’s time, however, Nineveh had again become extremely wicked. Therefore, Nahum pronounced the Lord’s condemnation of the city.

●  Nahum 1   Nahum’s prophecies were written in superb Hebrew poetry.

— Acrostic:   His book begins with an acrostic, with one strophe (stanza) for each of the first fifteen letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

— vv. 2–10    Dualism: The Second Coming. Nahum employed imagery usually associated with the Second Coming to depict Assyria’s future devastation.

— vv. 11–14    Sennacherib, king of Assyria, invaded Judah with a force of nearly 200,000 men. This prophecy foretold that Sennacherib would die shortly, and the house of his gods would become his grave

—  2 Kings 19:37   This prophecy was fulfilled. While he was worshiping in the temple built to the god Nisrock, Sennacherib’s two sons, Adrammelech and Sharazer, murdered him.

●  Nahum 2–3   The destruction of Nineveh  (and of the world at the Lord’s 2nd Coming).

— vv. 1–7   “Woe to the Bloody City.” Nineveh (and the world today) is a harlot, wicked in the extreme, and her punishments are just.  She not only turns to wickedness herself but exports that wickedness to others.

— v. 6   This prophecy was literally fulfilled when Nineveh was captured by the Babylonians.  They opened the river’s gates and flooded the city, and the palace was “dissolved” (literally “melted” or “destroyed”).

President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“In fulfilment, the river overflowed, inundated the walls for miles, the gates were burned, the king and his concubines and his wealth were consumed with the palaces, and the unconquerable city, now made vulnerable by flood and fire, was taken by the invaders while its boasted defenders lay in drunken stupor and lolled in licentiousness. Today the canals of Nineveh are gone, leaving the country a desolate waste. Sheep and cattle seek scanty pasture among the mounds of the once greatest city.

“God cannot be mocked! His laws are immutable. True repentance is rewarded by forgiveness but sin brings the sting of death.

“Nineveh is not the only instance. Historians are still puzzled regarding the annihilation of the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Whatever happened to these peoples, this we know, that swift destruction came to them. Perhaps the Japanese of Hiroshima were no more completely nor quickly destroyed. At least students agree that there was a devastating holocaust which enveloped the cities, leaving the monuments and the people in utter desolation, never to be rediscovered nor rebuilt.”
(endnote: 1)

— vv. 8–11   “Art Thou Better?”  As other wicked cities had met destruction, so would Nineveh. She was no better than the Egyptian city, No-Amon (Thebes), which was earlier destroyed by Assyria.


The Book of Habakkuk

Habakkuk was one of the twelve prophets of the Old Testament with shorter books (though by no means reflecting messages of lesser import).

Habakkuk prophesied during the rise of the Babylonian power, but before the first deportation of the Jews in 597 BC Some scholars believe that he wrote about the time Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians in 605 BC, concurrent with the activities of Lehi and Jeremiah in Jerusalem and also with the work of Daniel, and Ezekiel. Some scholars believe that he wrote after the battle of Carchemish in which Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians in 605 BC He probably lived in Jerusalem.

Key Sections:

— Chapter 1   The land of Israel to be overrun by the invading Chaldeans.
— Chapter 2   The Chaldeans, in turn, feel the wrath of the Lord for their idolatry.
— Chapter 3   An anthem of praise, called in the title of Chapter 3  “A prayer of Habakkuk the Prophet.”

Habakkuk’s Messages:

— God punishes the wicked through the incursions of the wicked. His plan of salvation will prevail unto the blessing of all who remember His commandments.

— Having Faith In God’s Purposes.

— Habakkuk’s writings are in question-and-answer form with the Lord.

Sydney B. Sperry said, “The book differs markedly from the other prophetic books. Whereas most of the others contain the words of the Lord addressed to the people, in the Book of Habakkuk the prophet, as the representative of the people, addresses and challenges the Lord. He begins by complaining about the apparent indifference of the Lord to violence, strife, and widespread corruption in Judah. The prophet is puzzled over this indifference, knowing as he does the righteous and holy character of God. The Lord, in answer to this complaining, states that He is about to raise up the Chaldeans to execute judgment. The prophet is only the more perplexed at this answer for he fails to understand why the Lord should use the cruel and fierce Chaldeans to execute judgment upon people who are more righteous than they are. The Lord, however, points out that the Chaldeans are to be but temporarily triumphant; they shall eventually meet with destruction, whereas the righteous shall live by faith. The oppressed nations may begin at once to rejoice over the Fall of the Chaldeans; hence the prophet’s ‘taunt-song’ against them, which takes the form of five woes upon the corrupt traits in the enemy’s character and his many cruelties. The book ends in a beautiful anthem of praise.”
(endnote: 2)

●  Habakkuk 1:1–2   A shigionoth may have been a stringed instrument, or perhaps a musical expression used to accompany singers. Possibly this prayer of Habakkuk was set to music and intended for use in the temple.

●  A selah was a cue for the person singing or chanting the words. The use of this word in Psalms is further evidence that Habakkuk’s prayer may have been set to music.

●  Habakkuk 1:1–4  Habakkuk’s 1st Question:

— Why do the wicked go unpunished?
— Does this show a lack of faith?
— D&C 121:1–6   Joseph Smith felt abandoned.
— Matthew 27:46   Christ himself felt abandoned.

Habakkuk 1:5–6   The Lord answers that the wicked will be punished by Babylon (the Chaldeans).

●  Habakkuk 1:12–21   Habakkuk’s 2nd Question:

— Why does God use the wicked to punish his people?
— Mormon 4:5   It is by the wicked that the wicked are punished.

—  Habakkuk 2   The Lord answers that the power of the wicked was temporary and the righteous will prevail.

Habakkuk 3 Habakkuk expresses his trust in God—an anthem of praise in the form of a prayer written entirely in Hebrew poetry.

— vv. 16–20   Habakkuk utters his psalm of praise to God and trust in Him, in awe at the powers and glory of God.


The Book of Zephaniah

Zephaniah was one of the twelve prophets of the Old Testament with shorter books (though by no means reflecting messages of lesser import).

This book was written during the reign of Josiah (639–608 BC)  Zephaniah was a contemporary of Jeremiah, Lehi, Nahum, Habakkuk, Daniel, and Ezekiel. He was also a contemporary of King Josiah, and his ministry probably played an important part in the reform movement of that time. Zephaniah may have been the great-great-grandson of the good king Hezekiah (spelled Hizkiah in Zephaniah 1:1).  It is believed that he lived in Jerusalem.

The purpose of the book is to proclaim severe judgments against the unrighteous and to confirm hope and joy for the righteous at the Second Coming.

Key Sections:

— Chapter 1   The judgments of God will be poured out upon unrighteous Judah.
— Chapter 2   The Lord counsels His people to avoid the destruction decreed against their enemies.
— Chapter 3   A panoramic view of the righteous and wicked at the 2nd Coming.

Zephaniah’s Message:  The Coming “Day of the Lord”

●  Zephaniah 1   Dualism:  Foretells the day of Judah’s destruction and wrath, and . . .
                                                      The prophecy is also a “type” of the Second Coming.

— vv. 1–9   His purpose in cataloging all the various forms of life was to stress the complete scope of judgment. The reference to the wicked of mankind focuses on the main issue: sin and its consequences.

— v. 7   “The day of the Lord” always refers to the 2nd Coming.

●  Zephaniah 1:10–18   The great day will come, and the wicked will reap the judgments.

— Zephaniah used terms familiar to people in his day but unfamiliar to us today:

— v. 10   The “fish gate” was on the north end of the city, and those there would be the first to see an enemy invading from the north.

— v. 10   The fish gate opened into the part of the city known as the “second quarter”, probably because it was an expansion of the original city of David. This quarter would be the first reached from the north.

— v. 11   “Maktesh” was the name of the merchant’s quarter, which lay in the second quarter; thus, the reference to merchants, “that bear silver.”

— v. 12   To “search with candles” suggests an exhaustive search, since in the poorly lighted houses of those times one would have to use a candle to look for a lost object at night.

— v. 12   “Settled upon their lees” was a figure drawn from winemaking. The lees are the thick residue of the pulp of the grapes. “Good wine, when it remains for a long time upon its lees, becomes stronger; but bad wine becomes harsher and thicker.” The interpretation of the symbol is that wicked men, like bad wine, remain apathetic about the true religion and become increasingly harsh and bitter.

●  Zephaniah 2   Prophecies against the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, and Assyrians.

— Judah was not the only nation ripe for destruction. The foreign peoples who taunted and reviled Judah were also worthy of annihilation.

— vv. 2–3   Still, there was some hope. “A remnant may yet be saved. He sees a possible escape for the humble, whom he mentions in contrast to the proud who have provoked the wrath of God.

●  Zephaniah 3:1–8   Zephaniah speaks of the 2nd Coming of Christ when God’s wrath will destroy all wickedness and sin.

— v. 8   The end of time is indicated here because it is the time when the Lord will gather the nations together.

●  Zephaniah 3: 9–20   Additional prophecies about the Lord’s 2nd Coming of Christ:

— We will all speak a pure language and serve God with unity.
— The righteous will be blessed.
— The Lord will reign among us in the last days.
— However, we must not mistakenly think that to be preserved means that none will be physically harmed in the years prior to that day.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “We do not say that all of the Saints will be spared and saved from the coming day of desolation. But we do say there is no promise of safety and no promise of security except for those who love the Lord and who are seeking to do all that he commands.”
(endnote: 3)

— The righteous who die will be saved in the kingdom of God.

Sydney B. Sperry said, “Zephaniah saw our day and beyond. In it he both suffered and rejoiced. He suffered in spirit because of the desolation and destruction which he saw, but he was able to use this as a warning and threat to his own people. In the redemption and final blessings of Israel, he saw a ray of hope to extend to Judah. No prophet has written more clearly or vigorously of the Day of the Lord. Zephaniah must be added to the list of prophets who give us a grave warning of disaster.”
(endnote: 4)


1: In Conference Report, October 1945, 122–123.

2: The Voice of Israel’s Prophets, 365–366.

3: In Conference Report, Apr. 1979, 133; or Ensign, May 1979, 93.

4: The Voice of Israel’s Prophets, 388.