A Literary Look at Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah -- By: Richard Patterson

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 11:1 (Spring 1990)
Article: A Literary Look at Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah
Author: Richard Patterson


A Literary Look at
Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah

Richard Patterson

Although the stool of proper biblical exegesis must rest evenly upon the four legs of grammar, history, theology, and literary analysis, too often the literary leg receives such short fashioning that the resulting hermeneutical product is left unbalanced. While in no way minimizing the crucial importance of all four areas of exegesis, this paper concentrates on the benefits of applying sound literary methods to the study of three often neglected seventh century B.C. prophetical books. Thorough literary analysis demonstrates that, contrary to some critical opinions, all three books display a carefully designed structure that argues strongly for the unity and authorial integrity of all the material involved. Likewise, the application of literary techniques can prove to be an aid in clarifying difficult exegetical cruces.

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The time has passed when evangelicals need to be convinced that the application of sound literary methods is a basic ingredient for proper biblical exegesis. A steady stream of papers, articles, and books attests to a growing consensus among evangelicals as to the essential importance of literary studies in gaining full insight into God’s revelation.1 This paper presents some observations drawn from the study of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah in preparation for a forthcoming volume in Moody’s Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary series (WEC).

A Literary Look at Nahum and Habakkuk

Because I have written elsewhere concerning the outstanding literary craftsmanship of the book of Nahum, it remains here only to summarize briefly the results of those studies. I have suggested that Nahum delivers his prophecies of the doom of Nineveh in a bifid structure (1, 2–3) in which he demonstrates that God, the great Judge of the universe, will both see to Nineveh’s punishment and the restoration of his own people. In the first section, following a grand hymn praising God both for his chastisement of the wicked and care of the godly, Nahum applies the principles inherent in the hymn to the current situation of Nineveh and Judah. In the second, he carries his argument forward by painting a twofold picture of Nineveh’s certain doom (2, 3), each portion being closed by graphically presenting taunt songs celebrating Nineveh’s demise.

It was also noted that Nahum took full advantage of the compilational and compositional techniques known to the Semitic w...

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