(huh' bak' kuhk) A prophet of the late seventh century B.C., contemporary to Jeremiah. One explanation has his name based on a root meaning “to embrace.” The Greek Old Testament spelling “Hambakoum” suggests a root meaning “plant” or “vegetable.”
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 apocryphal work Bel and the Dragon (Bel and the Dragon 1:33-39) tells a story about Habakkuk being taken to Babylon by an angel to feed Daniel while he was in the lions den.
The Book The Book of Habakkuk gives us the best picture of the prophet. After a brief statement identifying the prophet (Habakkuk 1:1), the book falls into three distinct divisions:
A. The Prophet's Questions and the Lord's Answers (Habakkuk 1:2-2:5)
B. Five Woes against Tyrants (Habakkuk 2:6-20)
C. A Prayer of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:1-19)
Of these three parts, only one, the woes (Habakkuk 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 (Habakkuk 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 (Habakkuk 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 light of what follows, internal injustice seems to have been the object of his concern.
In response, the Lord told the prophet that He was at work sending the Chaldeans as the instrument of His judgment (Habakkuk 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? (Habakkuk 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” (Habakkuk 2:4 RSV). The term “faith” has more of the sense of faithfulness or conviction that results in action.
The woes (Habakkuk 2:6-20), not unlike those of the other prophets, denounce various kinds of tyranny: plunder (Habakkuk 2:6-8); becoming rich and famous by unjust means (Habakkuk 2:9-11); building towns with blood (Habakkuk 2:12-14); degrading one's neighbor (Habakkuk 2:15-17); and idol worship (Habakkuk 2:18-19). This section ends with a ringing affirmation of the sovereignty of the Lord.
The final section (Habakkuk 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 This book was a favorite of the people of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They interpreted the first two chapters as prophecy of their triumph over the Romans who were the overlords of Palestine at that time. Unfortunately, the Romans prevailed.
More important to us, however, is the influence this book had on the apostle Paul. Habakkuk's declaration that “the just (righteous) shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 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.
I. A Prophet Perplexed: Why Does God Permit Injustice? (Habakkuk 1:1-17)
A. Prophet's first protest: A cry for deliverance from violence and iniquity (Habakkuk 1:1-4).
B. God's first reply: The worst is yet to be (Habakkuk 1:5-11).
C. Prophet's second protest: How can a holy God use such a cruel instrument as this evil people? (Habakkuk 1:12-17)
II. A Prophet Perceiving: The Righteous Shall Live by Faithfulness (Habakkuk 2:1-20).
A. God's second reply (Habakkuk 2:1-5)
1. Revelation comes to one prepared to wait (Habakkuk 2:1).
2. Revelation must be easy to understand (Habakkuk 2:2).
3. Revelation will prove true in God's time (Habakkuk 2:3).
4. Persistent faith—not pride, parties, nor plunder—is the distinguishing mark of the righteous (Habakkuk 2:4-5).
B. God taunts His materialistic enemy (Habakkuk 2:6-20).
1. First taunt song: Woe because of pride and ambition (Habakkuk 2:6-8)
2. Second taunt song: Woe because of arrogance and greed (Habakkuk 2:9-11)
3. Third taunt song: Woe because of cruelty (Habakkuk 2:12-14)
4. Fourth taunt song: Woe because of drunkenness (Habakkuk 2:15-17)
5. Fifth taunt song: Woe because of idolatry (Habakkuk 2:18-19)
6. Conclusion: A call for universal worship of the holy God (Habakkuk 2:20)
III. A Prophet Praying and Praising: A Psalm of Confidence Is the Proper Response to Revelation (Habakkuk 3:1-19).
A. Prayer asks God to repeat His acts of deliverance (Habakkuk 3:1-2).
B. Prayer gains confidence by recounting the holy God's redeeming acts (Habakkuk 3:3-15).
C. Prayer responds in awesome fear and confident joy to God's history with His people (Habakkuk 3:16-18).
D. Prayer claims God's strength for present crisis (Habakkuk 3:19).
John H. Tullock