AUTHOR AND TITLE

Little is known about the prophet Habakkuk. He was likely a contemporary of Zephaniah and Jeremiah, and possibly even of Ezekiel and Daniel, but none of the other prophets mention him. His name appears twice in the book (1:1; 3:1), and he is clearly the main character. God commands Habakkuk to record the vision in chapter 2, and he probably also wrote chapter 3. In the apocryphal book Bel and the Dragon, Habakkuk is said to supply nourishment to Daniel when the latter was in the lions’ den, but this work is not considered historically reliable.

DATE

The only hint of a date for this book is its prediction of the Babylonian invasion of Judah (1:6), but it is unclear how far into the future this event would be (see 2:2–3). The Babylonians do not appear to be an imminent threat when Habakkuk was writing, but he seems to be very aware of their potential threat, and thus Habakkuk’s time frame is probably not later than the end of Josiah’s reign (640–609 b.c.). Before Josiah, Judah had radically turned away from God under the leadership of the extremely wicked kings Manasseh and Amon, and the nation was ripe for punishment (2 Kings 23:26–27). Judah was morally and spiritually corrupt, worshiping Baal on the high places, offering its children to Molech, dedicating horses to the sun god, and allowing the temple to fall into ruin. Judah experienced a significant, though short-lived, time of revival during Josiah’s reign with the restoration of the temple and reinstitution of the Feast of Passover, but returned quickly to its evil ways following his death. It was a politically turbulent time as well. Assyria had ruled Judah with a heavy hand for well over a hundred years, inflicting punishment and tribute; but Assyria was beginning to weaken, and soon Babylon would be the world power. Habakkuk probably lived to see the following events: the destruction of Nineveh by Babylon in 612 b.c.; the battle of Haran in 609 in which Josiah died as he tried to hinder the Egyptians from reaching the battle; the final defeat of the Assyrians at the Battle of Carchemish (605); and possibly the fulfillment of his own prophecy of the Babylonian invasions of Judah in 605, 597, and 586.

THEME

By the end of the book, Habakkuk is a changed person—he has learned to wait and trust in God, who works out all things for his glory. Habakkuk, like Job, questions God’s justice, but in the end both realize that God is sovereign and his justice is far beyond their comprehension. Habakkuk’s message of judgment on Judah would not have been well accepted, for the nation had been blinded by sin while false prophets were declaring that God would not punish his chosen people. But God’s justice demands that wickedness be punished, whether found in pagan nations or in his own people.

PURPOSE, OCCASION, AND BACKGROUND

Habakkuk is unusual as a prophetic book in that it never addresses the people of Judah directly but rather is a dialogue between the prophet and God. The first two chapters are organized around Habakkuk’s prayers (or, more correctly, complaints) and the Lord’s replies. Habakkuk saw the rapid progress of Judah’s moral and spiritual deterioration and this deeply troubled him. Yet God’s response puzzled him even more, for “how could a good and just God use a more wicked nation to punish a less wicked one?” God makes it clear that both nations are to be judged and appropriately punished for their evil acts. Although Habakkuk may not fully understand, he has learned to rely totally on the wisdom and justice of God to bring about the proper resolution in ways he could never have imagined. This God is certainly worthy of Habakkuk’s praise and worship, which is how the book ends.

The words of this prophet would surely have resonated with many of the righteous in Judah, who wondered what God was doing and struggled with the same issues that Habakkuk struggled with. God’s words reassured them that he was in control and would take appropriate measures to deal with the nations. This book continued to have relevance to its readers, as evidenced by a commentary on the first two chapters discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

KEY THEMES

1. God is just and merciful, even though his people may not always understand his ways (2:4).

2. Wickedness will eventually be punished, and the righteous will ultimately see God’s justice (2:5–20).

3. God uses some wicked nations to punish other wicked nations, but ultimately God will judge all nations (1:6; 2:5–20).

4. The key phrase “but the righteous will live by his faith” summarizes the path of life God sets for his people and is quoted three times in the NT (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38), each time highlighting a different aspect of the phrase’s meaning.

HISTORY OF SALVATION SUMMARY

God’s ways of preserving and purifying his people are mysterious to the believer; and yet God calls his suffering people to show faith that God’s purposes for the world will at last prevail (2:4, 14; 3:17–19)—a faith that NT authors develop and commend. (For an explanation of the “History of Salvation,” see theOverview of the Bible. See also History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ.)

LITERARY FEATURES

The first two chapters fall into the dramatic format of dialogue; more specifically, they are question-and-answer exchanges between the prophet and God. The prophet’s vision of God’s appearance (3:3–15) is a theophany, and it is followed by a personal testimony (3:17–19). Overall, the first-person format of the dialogue, the visionary theophany, and the testimony make the book read like a personal journal.

Part of the artistry of the book is its patterns. The prophet complains twice, listens to God twice, and prays once (ch. 3). There are two oracles from God (1:5–11; 2:2–20) and one vision of God (3:3–15). In the first two chapters, the prophet’s faith is troubled; in chapter 3, it is triumphant. Two chapters tell us what God is doing, followed by a chapter that demonstrates who God is.

THE NEAR EAST AT THE TIME OF HABAKKUK

c. 620 b.c.

Though the exact date of the prophecies of Habakkuk are difficult to determine, it is likely that he prophesied a short time before the Babylonian invasions of Judah, which began in 605 b.c. During this time the Assyrian Empire was in decline, and the Babylonians were rising to replace them as the dominant power in the Near East.

The Near East at the Time of Habakkuk

OUTLINE

  1. Superscription (1:1)
  2. First Cycle (1:2–11)
  3. Habakkuk’s lament (1:2–4)
  4. God’s response (1:5–11)
  5. Second Cycle (1:12–2:20)
  6. Habakkuk’s lament (1:12–2:1)
  7. God’s response (2:2–20)
  8. Habakkuk’s Prayer (3:1–19)

HABAKKUK

CHAPTER 1

1 The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.

2 O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!

3 Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.

4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.

5 ¶ Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.

6 For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not their’s.

7 They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves.

8 Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat.

9 They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.

10 And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it.

11 Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.

12Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.

13 Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?

14 And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them?

15 They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad.

16 Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.

17 Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations?

CHAPTER 2

1 I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.

2 And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.

3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.

4 Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.

5 ¶ Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people:

6 Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!

7 Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them?

8 Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.

9 ¶ Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil!

10 Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul.

11 For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.

12 ¶ Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!

13 Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?

14 For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

15 ¶ Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!

16 Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the LORD’S right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory.

17 For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid, because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.

18 ¶ What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?

19 Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.

20 But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.

CHAPTER 3

1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.

2 O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.

3 God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.

4 And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power.

5 Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet.

6 He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting.

7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.

8 Was the LORD displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation?

9 Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Selah. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.

10 The mountains saw thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high.

11 The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of thine arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear.

12 Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh the heathen in anger.

13 Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah.

14 Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly.

15 Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, through the heap of great waters.

16 When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops.

17 ¶ Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.

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