We don't know who Habakkuk was...his name means "embracer," because of his love for God.
Time written & time covered in history:
Habbakuk prophesied just before the invasion of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.C (when he took Daniel and others to Babylon). He was a contemporary of Jeremiah (in Judah) and of Daniel (in Babylon). He was either one of the members of the choir in the Temple, or he helped to arrange the services (1:13).
God told Habakkuk to pronounce His judgment on Judah...through deportation to Babylon. King Jehoiakim was a sinful king (cf. Jeremiah 22:17; 2 Kings 23:34-24:5).
The focus of Habakkuk’s prophecy is Babylon. Obadiah spoke of the fate of Edom – Nahum the fate of Assyria – and Habakkuk the fate of Babylon.
Habakkuk speaks to God alone about a problem that bothered him relating to Jehovah’s government of the nations. The first part could be called a colloquy (a dialogue or discussion) between Habakkuk and Jehovah. The last part is a beautiful description of a “theophany” (a visible appearance of God).
Through the Bible in One Year, Alan B. Strongfellow, p. 102
This prophecy belongs to the period between 625 and 606 B.C., probably about 607 B.C., early in Jehoiakim’s reign. The Chaldeans (Babylonians) were sweeping westward (1:6), but had not yet reached Judah (3:16). Chronology of the period was:
639-608 B.C. Josiah. Great Reformation. Zephaniah.
626 B.C. Assyria greatly weakened by Scythian Invasion.
625 B.C. Babylon declared its Independence of Assyria.
608 B.C. Jehoahaz reigned 3 months. Taken to Egypt.
608-597 B.C. Jehoiakim. A very wicked reign. Habakkuk?
607 B.C. (or 612?). Babylonians destroyed Nineveh.
606 B.C. Babylonians invade Judah. Took captives.
605 B.C. Babylonians defeated Egypt at Carchemish.
597 B.C. Jehoiachin reigned 3 months. Taken to Babylon.
597-586 B.C. Zedekiah. A weak, wicked king. Taken to Babylon.
586 B.C. Jerusalem burned. Land desolated.
Haley’s Bible Handbook, Henry H. Haley, p. 372
The Assyrian empire had fallen to Babylon just like Nahum had prophesied. Now, Habakkuk knew that Judah would soon be another victim. He was well aware that as a nation, Judah had sinned and was deserving of judgment. Habakkuk trusted God, but he struggled with the idea that God would use a sinful, pagan nation such as Babylon to accomplish this judgment. For one, how could a holy God interact with a sinful nation. And two, why hadn’t that sinful nation been judged? In what seems to be a dialogue between Habakkuk and God…these two Philosophical Problems are Proposed and God Provides an answer.
- Why did God allow evil to increase in Judah without punishing them? (1:2-4; the answer is in 1:5-11);
- How could a holy God use a nation (Babylon) that was even more evil than Judah to punish them? (1:12-2:1, the answer is in 2:2-20).
This book is a "theodicy" (a defense of God's goodness and power in view of the existence of evil).
Habakkuk’s Philosophical Problems
Why do the wicked go unpunished? Habakkuk 1:2-11
Habakkuk 1:2-4-Problem #1 Proposed
Why does God allow evil to increase among His people? Habakkuk says that he sees evil everywhere and that justice is not being done. His Problem is summarized in the second half of verse 4, “For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore, justice becomes perverted.” In other words, the wicked overwhelm the righteous and yet they are not judged. This not seem just, or right.
Habakkuk 1:5-11-Answer #1 Provided
God tells Habakkuk to not worry…but to look around and watch the things that He is doing. He is doing things that Habakkuk wouldn’t believe possible even if had been told. God tells him that even though he may not see it, He is at work. Even though at times we do not recognize it and at times in ways that we would not expect. God is about to judge Judah...but it will be in His time and in His way. In this case, God is going to use the extremely evil kingdom of Babylon to accomplish His purpose. However, that in no way means that they will not face judgment for their own sins (:11).
How can a righteous God use a wicked people? Habakkuk 1:12-2:20
Habakkuk 1:12-2:1-Problem #2 Proposed
Now Habakkuk is even more confused. How is it possible for a holy God (:12a, 13a) to interact with a sinful nation? Why would God allow a nation even more evil than Judah to be used to judge Judah (:13b-17)? He says that he will take his stand like a guard on the wall around the city so that he will be ready to hear when God answers him (2:1).
Habakkuk 2:2-20-Answer #2 Provided
God tells Habakkuk to be careful to write His answer to this Problem down so that people can read it and “run” to tell others. Evidently, Habakkuk wasn’t the only person who struggled with this Problem.
God tells Habakkuk to not be concerned about the Babylonians...He will judge them in due time (:3). God makes it clear that while Habakkuk may be able to easily identify the sins of Babylon…he should be careful that he does not fail to do the same thing for Israel. Neither of them were deserving of God’s favor…all are sinners and are guilty in God’s eyes…and none can do anything to save themselves. The one sin of Israel that God identifies is pride…”the proud one” (:4), “the haughty man” (:5). It is their pride that blinds them to their own sin and keeps them from being faithful to God. They think that they will be made right with God by their religious practices and sacrifices…but that will not suffice. Instead, God says that “the righteous will live by his faith” (:4). It is faith in God that makes a man right with God.
One of the texts in Habakkuk has great significance in the history of the Reformation. Do you know the story of the young monk Martin Luther who rose to his feet as was crawling up the steps of the Scala Sancta in Rome? He remembered these words, The just shall live by his faith (Habakkuk 2:4). Not by works! This started him out on his great crusade which brough about the reformation.
What the Bible is All About, Henrietta C. Mears, p. 314
For a brief biography of the life of Martin Luther see:
God shows Habakkuk that He is aware of the sins of Babylon by identifying five specific areas for which they will be judged. He pronounces "woe" (which speaks of judgment) over them for:
- greed (:6-8)
- extortion (:9-11)
- building their kingdom on the sweat and blood of others (:12-14)
- using alcohol as a prelude to perversion (:15-17)
- idolatry (:18-19).
This judgment is also applied to the Israelites who practiced these things.
Habakkuk 2:20-Habakkuk then says that God has given His answer…let no one question Him.
Habakkuk’s Prayer of Praise
In this Prayer of Praise, Habakkuk praises God. This is a "theophany"...a description of the nature of God using physical attributes.
Habakkuk 3:1-2-The meaning of the word “Shigionoth” is uncertain. It was possibly a term that identified how this Prayer was to be used in worship. Remember, Habakkuk was involved with the Temple choir (1:13). Also note that verse 19 says that this prayer was to be sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments.
He begins this Prayer by saying that even though he does not completely understand everything that God has explained to him…he is still going to trust God. He is fully aware of what is about to happen to his people and the tragedy that lies ahead. But even so, he calls upon God to begin His acts of judgment, now. He has faith that God will be with him regardless of what happens. With that in mind…He lifts his heart and voice in a Prayer of Praise…speaking of the glorious characteristics of the Lord whom he trusts. He says…
Habakkuk 3:3-God’s Presence is Universal
This was important because many of the people of Judah would be deported to Babylon. It was the common belief in that day that gods only had local control and power…limited to the area where their altars and images were located. However, Habakkuk proclaims that God is not limited to a single geographical area. His Presence is throughout the earth and even the Heavens.
Habakkuk 3:4-7-God’s Providence is Eternal
The phrase, “He has rays flashing from His hand, and there is the hiding of His power,” means that there is strength and power in God’s hands. The hands of God will protect and provide for His people. God stands and oversees all that takes place on the earth. He has been in control since it first appeared.
Habakkuk 3:8-16-God’s Sovereignty is Invincible
God is portrayed here as a mighty soldier advancing into battle (:8-12). He has come to save His people (:13). He completely overwhelms the enemy that has subdued them (:14-15). Habakkuk now shows us that this is a picture of what lies ahead (“I must wait quietly for the day of distress”, :16). Babylon will be the enemy that will overwhelm Israel. But, at some time after that…God will set them free from bondage. The thought of what was going to happen to Israel deeply disturbed him. But he continues to trust in God.
Habakkuk 3:17-19-God’s Salvation is Dependable
It was not unusual for an invading army to completely destroy the countryside as it advanced…including all crops and animals (:17). Habakkuk said that even when that happened, he would continue to praise God because he knew that his life was in God’s hands…God would save him. Verses 18 and 19 are wonderful words of praise. In verse 19 he pictures a “hind”…a female deer known for its fleetness and amazing agility. It was able to move swiftly across the steepest cliffs of the mountains in places where no other animal would venture. Habakkuk says that God will give him the strength and the ability to face even the most dangerous of situations.
Prayer: Lord, Habakkuk asked You some questions and You answered. First of all, to this day, after knowing You for all of these years, that still amazes me. To know that I can pray to You…and You will answer. But second, Habakkuk learned some things…but he was still uncertain about others. And yet, he didn’t allow what he didn’t know to hinder his faith. Instead, he moved boldly ahead in faith that was based on what he did know. Please help me to be like that. Help me to have that kind of faith. And Lord, make me walk on high places!