Nahum, ironically named ‘the compassionate one’, Habakkuk who laments God’s failure to answer his questions about justice and violence, and the eponymous Malachi are the three characters whose record is the focus of this reading. The commentary offers a close reading of the Hebrew text of each book along with its rhetorical features. The three books are read from within their several ancient contexts, literary, cultural and theological.
Only Habakkuk is specifically identified as a ‘prophet’, while Nahum’s and Malachi’s editors studiously avoid the term, raising a question about why these three books have been honoured with a place in the Scroll of the Twelve rather than somewhere else. Each book is titled a Massa’ by its editor, identifying them as examples of an emerging literary trope that combines both prophetic and wisdom elements in a didactic purpose.
Nahum is identified not as a prophet but as a Visionary. He saw the dire situation of his people and expressed his longing for God’s intervention. The God of whom he spoke was one ‘jealous, and avenging’, one he longed would act against the overwhelming power of the Assyrians that threatened his people.
Habakkuk, though identified as a prophet, shows no evidence of any prophetic activity. He laments the failure of justice and consequent violence as witnessed (1.2-4). The Lament-form used has been torn in two by the editor for the purpose of inserting a Dialogue with God (1.5-2.20), a Dialogue that fails completely to answer Habakkuk’s ‘Why?’ questions in 1.1-2. The concluding portion of the Lament (3.2-19) witnesses to Habakkuk’s continued trust in his God despite the divine failure to resolve his questions.
The eponymous ‘Malachi’ is identified as a Messenger, never as a prophet, as the book reports six different and independent messages covering issues that arose during an extended period in early postexilic Judaean life. Using a frame of six Question-Response forms that feature rhetorical questions, his audiences deny the validity of each negative charge against them.
Graham Ogden has been a United Bible Societies’ Translation Consultant. He lives in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.
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