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Introduction to the Book of Habakkuk

Julian Spriggs M.A.

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Habakkuk the prophet

His name is thought to be derived from a root meaning 'to embrace'. Little is known about him, but because of the musical arrangement of chapter three, it has been suggested that he was a Levite. He is the only OT prophet to call himself a prophet (1:1). This may indicate that he belonged to one of the professional guilds of prophets (1 Chr 25:1). His contemporary was Jeremiah, while Zephaniah and Nahum were ministering earlier in his life.

Habakkuk prophesied in Judah after the fall of the northern kingdom. His words are addressed to God, and the book is in the form of a conversation of questions and answers between himself and God.

Habakkuk appears in the legend of Bel and the Dragon in the Apocrypha, where he rescued Daniel from his second time in the lion's den. This account is impossible historically, as Daniel was not put into the lion’s den until after 539 BC, nearly seventy years later.

Historical background

God is 'rousing the Chaldeans' to be the instrument of his judgement on Judah (1:6). The Chaldeans would refer to the Babylonian empire which overthrew the Assyrian empire in 612 BC and defeated Pharaoh Necho of Egypt at Carchemish in 605 BC. Pharaoh Necho also defeated and killed King Josiah of Judah at the battle of Megiddo (2 Kg 23:29, 2 Chr 35:20). After these victories, Judah was at the mercy of the Chaldeans.

The book of Habakkuk is normally dated either just before, or just after, the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. The rousing of the Chaldeans may still be future still future and something to be wondered at (1:5), but the detailed description of the Chaldean methods of warfare (1:7-11) may imply that they were already well known.

The reformation of Josiah had proved ineffective to stop for any length of time the iniquity and perverseness of the nation. Now God must punish them and he is rousing the Chaldeans to do this. Habakkuk's ministry probably spanned the reigns of: Josiah (640 - 609), Jehoahaz (609), and Jehoiakim (609 - 598), with the prophecy set in Jehoiakim's reign around 605 BC.

Outline of the book

The book consists of a soliloquy, in which Habakkuk asks questions and God answers them. Habakkuk is struggling with the same question as Job and Psalm 73, "Why do the wicked prosper while God's people suffer?"

Habakkuk's first question or complaint (1:1-4)
Why is God allowing such injustice and wickedness to flourish?

God's reply (1:5-11)
I am rousing the Chaldeans: they will represent the coming of God's judgement and wrath on his people for their apostasy.

Habakkuk's second question or complaint (1:12 - 2:1)
How can God use such a wicked and faithless people as the Babylonians as his instrument of judgement. Habakkuk can accept God using a heathen nation to punish another heathen nation, but not to punish Judah, God's chosen people. The Babylonians are far more evil than Judah.

God's reply (2:2-20)
He has seen the unrighteousness of the Chaldeans and their greed, pride, cruelty and idolatry. He will gloriously vindicate himself by bringing his judgement on them. Men will seem to triumph but in the end God's righteousness will be vindicated. God is sovereign and will use the nations to achieve his perfect will. The unjust will die, but the righteous shall live by faith (2:4)

Habakkuk's response (3:1-19)
His doubts satisfied, he breaks out into a psalm of rejoicing in which he recalls how God in the past has vindicated his righteousness and saved his people. Habakkuk speaks out his word of faith in 3:17-19 - Even though I may loose everything,
"Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord is my strength ..."

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