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

NICOT - Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah
The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah by Thomas Renz
Series: New International Commentaries
Published by Eerdmans on June 8, 2021
Genres: Academic, Non-Fiction
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In this commentary, Thomas Renz reads Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah as three carefully crafted writings of enduring relevance, each of which makes a vital contribution to the biblical canon. Discussing the historical settings, Renz takes up both long-standing issues, such as the relationship of Zephaniah to Josiah’s reforms, and the socioeconomic conditions of the time suggested by recent archaeological research. The place of these writings within the Book of the Twelve is given fresh consideration, including the question of what one should make of the alleged redaction history of Nahum and Habakkuk. 
The author’s careful translation of the text comes with detailed textual notes, illuminating some of the Bible’s most outstanding poetry (Nahum) and one of the biblical chapters that is among the most difficult to translate (Habakkuk 3). The thorough verse-by-verse commentary is followed by stimulating theological reflection, opening up avenues for teaching and preaching from these prophetic writings. No matter their previous familiarity with these and other Minor Prophets, scholars, pastors, and lay readers alike will find needed guidance in working through these difficult but important books of the Bible.

For nearly fifty years, New International Commentaries have been the evangelical standard for a commentary set. Intended for clergy and biblical scholars, the NIC is an academic commentary that understands that not all of its readers will be fluent in Hebrew or Greek. Instead, the various authors provide their own translations of the text, use transliterated forms of biblical languages, and keep a balance between the academic and the applicational. The result is a versatile series that is beneficial for biblical scholars, but especially helpful to clergy. In my time as a pastor, it has become my first resource for studying any passage.

The first edition of The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah was released in 1990 under the authorship of O. Palmer Robertson. That volume was somewhat dated upon release, having been subject to delays in publication and with Robertson primarily interacting with research from the mid-20th century. Thirty years later, it was more than due for an update. This second edition, written by Thomas Renz, weighs in at about twice the length, providing a more thorough exegesis of the books and more space dedicated to theological and applicational content along with updated scholarship.

Renz is rector of Monken Hadley, a parish church of the Church of England, located just to the north of London. Prior to serving within the church, Renz was a professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Oak Hill Theological College. Renz may be somewhat of an odd choice as an author, given a relative lack of other academic writing and a position outside of academia, but his scholarship is sound and his writing style finds a great balance between academic and accessible. Renz writes early on in the book that his academic interest in Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (along with OT prophetic poetry more broadly) began more than two decades ago, meaning that this book is a milestone achievement in what has been a thoroughly and deeply-considered passion. Renz has lived within the content of this commentary for years and that expertise shines through the book. His current role as rector informs the pastoral tones that come out from the book, moving the commentary from dry academia to engaging and relevant.

The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah begins with a twenty-page general introduction that outlines the nature of prophetic books in general, moves to an overview of the Minor Prophets and the unity of the “Book of the Twelve,” the Jewish designation for the 12 smaller prophetic books. These three books of the Bible are group together in this commentary as they all share a setting and a theme of the rise and fall of the Assyrian Empire. He writes: “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.”

Each book is given an approximately thirty-page introduction that overviews the book in terms of its profile, its historical setting, and its rhetorical function. These sections are crucial for understanding the literary, historical, and cultural context of the books. The commentary for each book runs about 150-200 pages each and includes Renz’s translation of the Hebrew text with copious and extensive notes. While Renz handles the technical details well stylistically, this is one of the more technical volumes in the NICOT series. Confining technical comments to particular sections of the book or in footnotes makes the book more accessible to those looking more for theological or applicational value. As someone who isn’t a Hebrew scholar, I found some aspects of this section of the commentary overwhelming, but I’m sure that those with more knowledge than I would have appreciated how comprehensive Renz’s analysis is.

This is a volume that I wish I had when I preached through the books of Nahum and Habakkuk a few years ago. It would have made my work a lot easier and I would have preached better messages! Eerdmans continues to update older installments of NICOT with brilliant new editions. Renz’s The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah maintains the high bar for quality, readability, and applicability that other recent NICOT releases have set. A lifetime of scholarship packed into one volume, this is Renz’s magnum opus and an incredible contribution to biblical studies.