The Book Of Habakkuk
Introduction The Book of Habakkuk

J. Deering,

HABAKKUK (Huh' bak' kuhk) (embracer - Because of his love of god)
Were probably written about 606-604 B.C. This book consists of three chapters, the contents of which are thus comprehensively described:

"When the prophet in spirit saw the formidable power of the Chaldeans approaching and menacing his land, and saw the great evils they would cause in Judea, he bore his complaints and doubts before Jehovah, the just and the pure (Hab. 1:2-17).

And on this occasion the future punishment of the Chaldeans was revealed to him (Hab. 2).

In Hab. 3 a presentiment of the destruction of his country, in the inspired heart of the prophet, contends with his hope that the enemy would be chastised." The third chapter is a sublime song dedicated "to the chief musician," and therefore intended apparently to be used in the worship of God. It is "unequaled in majesty and splendor of language and imagery."

The passage in Hab. 2:4, "The just shall live by his faith," is quoted by the apostle in Rom. 1:17. (Compare Gal. 3:12; Heb. 10:37, 38.)

The Times
Judah had just experienced the exhilaration of the glorious days of Josiah, marked by freedom, prosperity, and a great religious revival. The Assyrians, once the scourge of the Middle East, were only a shadow of their former selves. In their place, however, stood the Babylonians. In the Book of Habakkuk, they are called the Chaldeans, so named for the region from which their rulers came. The Babylonian armies were led by the energetic Nebuchadnezzar, who was soon to succeed his father Nabopolassar as king.

Nineveh, Assyria's capital, fell in 612 B.C. The powerful poetry of Nahum celebrates its fall. In 609 B.C., disaster struck. King Josiah, attempting to block the Egyptians as they moved north along the Palestinian coast to aid Assyria, was killed at Megiddo in northern Palestine. In his place the Egyptians set up Josiah's son, Jehoiakim. Unlike his father, Jehoiakim was a petty tyrant. Over the next ten or eleven years, Jehoiakim tried to play the Babylonians off against the Egyptians until he finally exhausted the patience of Nebuchadnezzar. In 598, he laid siege to Jerusalem. That same year, Jehoiakim died, leaving his son, Jehoiachin, to become Nebuchadnezzar's prisoner when Jerusalem fell in 597 B.C. People from the upper classes and skilled workmen were also among those taken to Babylon as captives.

The Man
Other than his work as a prophet, nothing for certain of a personal nature is known about Habakkuk. Tradition makes him a priest of the tribe of Levi.

The Book
After a brief statement identifying the prophet (1:1), the book falls into three distinct divisions:

A. The Prophet's Questions and the Lord's Answers (1:2-2:5)
B. Five Woes against Tyrants (2:6-20)
C. A Prayer of Habakkuk (3:1-19)

Of these three parts, only one, the woes (2:6-20) fits the traditional pattern of the prophets. The great prophets of the Lord saw themselves as spokesmen for the Lord to the people. In the first section (1:2-2:5) in what has been called "the beginning of speculation in Israel," Habakkuk spoke to the Lord for the people. He asked two questions, the responses to which give Habakkuk a unique niche in the prophetic canon. The first question, Why does violence rule where there should be justice (1:2-5) expressed the prophet's sense of dismay, either about conditions within his own land caused by Jehoiakim, or by the oppression of weak countries by stronger powers.

In response, the Lord told the prophet that He was at work sending the Chaldeans as the instrument of His judgment (1:5-11).

The prophet shrank from such an idea and posed another question: Lord, how can you use someone more sinful than we are to punish us? (1:12-17). When the answer was not forthcoming immediately, he took his stand in the watchtower to wait for it. It was worth the wait: "Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith" (2:4 RSV). The term "faith" has more of the sense of faithfulness or conviction that results in action.

The woes (2:6-20), not unlike those of the other prophets, denounce various kinds of tyranny: plunder (2:6-8); becoming rich and famous by unjust means (2:9-11); building towns with blood (2:12-14); degrading one's neighbor (2:15-17); and idol worship (2:18-19). This section ends with a ringing affirmation of the sovereignty of the Lord.

The final section (3:1-19) is, in reality, a psalm, not unlike those found in the Book of Psalms. It is a magnificent hymn, extolling the Lord's triumph over His and His people's foes.

Habakkuk in History
Habakkuk's declaration that "the just (righteous) shall live by his faith" (2:4) was taken by Paul as a central element in his theology. As he did with many Old Testament passages, he used it with a slightly different emphasis. Through Paul, this passage came alive for an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther, setting off the Protestant Reformation, one of history's greatest religious upheavals. Thus a so-called "Minor" prophet had a major influence on those who followed him.

The Outline of Habakkuk
I. Introduction, 1;1

II. Habakkuk's Problems, 1:2-2:20

A. Problem 1: Why does God allow wicked practices to continue in Judah? 1:2-4
B. Answer, 1:5-11
C. Problem 2: Why will God use wicked people to punish Judah? 1:12-2:1
D. Answer, 2:2-20

III. Habakkuk's Praise, 3:1-19

A. Praise for the Person of God, 3:1-3
B. Praise for the Power of God, 3:4-7
C. Praise for the Purpose of God, 3:8-16
D. Praise because of Faith In God, 3:17-19