INTRODUCTION

The Book of Habakkuk is the eighth book of the 12 minor prophets of the Hebrew Bible.

It is attributed to the prophet Habakkuk, and was probably composed in the late 7th century BC.

Of the three chapters in the book, the first two are a dialog between Yahweh and the prophet.

The central message, that "the just shall live by his faith" (2:4), plays an important role in Christian thought.

It is used in the Epistle to the Romans 1:17, Epistle to the Galatians 3:11, and the Epistle to the Hebrews 10:38 as the starting point of the concept of faith.

A copy of these chapters is included in the Habakkuk Commentary, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Chapter 3 may be an independent addition, now recognized as a liturgical piece, but was possibly written by the same author as chapters 1 and 2.

The prophet Habakkuk is generally believed to have written his book in the mid-to-late 7th century BC, not long before the Babylonians' siege and capture of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

Habakkuk identifies himself as a prophet in the opening verse.

Due to the liturgical nature of the book of Habakkuk, there have been some scholars who think that the author may have been a temple prophet.

Temple prophets are described in 1 Chronicles 25:1 as using lyres, harps and cymbals.

Some feel that this is echoed in Habakkuk 3:19b, and that Habakkuk may have been a Levite and singer in the Temple.

There is no biographical information on the prophet Habakkuk; in fact less is known about him than any other writer of the Bible.

The only canonical information that exists comes from the book that is named for him.

His name comes either from the Hebrew word חבק (khavak) meaning "embrace" or else from an Akkadian word hambakuku for a kind of plant.

Although his name does not appear in any other part of the Jewish Bible, Rabbinic tradition holds Habakkuk to be the Shunammite woman's son, who was restored to life by Elisha in 2 Kings 4:16.

The prophet Habakkuk is also mentioned in the narrative of Bel and the Dragon, part of the deuterocanonical additions to Daniel in a late section of that book.

In the superscription of the Old Greek version, Habakkuk is called the son of Joshua of the tribe of Levi.

In this book Habakkuk is lifted by an angel to Babylon to provide Daniel with some food while he is in the lion's den.

 

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The Chaldean Empire around 600 BC.

It is unknown when Habakkuk lived and preached, but the reference to the rise and advance of the Chaldeans in 1:6–11 places him in the middle to last quarter of the 7th century BC.

One possible period might be during the reign of Jehoiakim, from 609–598 BC.

The reasoning for this date is that it is during his reign that the Neo-Babylonian Empire of the Chaldeans was growing in power.

The Babylonians marched against Jerusalem in 598 BC. Jehoiakim died while the Babylonians were marching towards Jerusalem and Jehoiakim's eighteen-year-old son Jehoiachin assumed the throne.

Upon the Babylonians' arrival, Jehoiachin and his advisors surrendered Jerusalem after a short time.

With the transition of rulers and the young age and inexperience of Jehoiachin, they were not able to stand against Chaldean forces.

There is a sense of an intimate knowledge of the Babylonian brutality in 1:12–17.

 

OVERVIEW

The book of Habakkuk is a book of the Tanakh (the Old Testament) and stands eighth in a section known as the 12 Minor Prophets in the Masoretic and Greek texts.

In the Masoretic listing, it follows Nahum and precedes Zephaniah, who are considered to be his contemporaries.

The book consists of three chapters and the book is neatly divided into three different genres:

  • A discussion between God and Habakkuk
  • An Oracle of Woe
  • A Psalm

 

THEMES

The major theme of Habakkuk is trying to grow from a faith of perplexity and doubt to the height of absolute trust in God. Habakkuk addresses his concerns over the fact that God will use the Babylonian empire to execute judgment on Judah for their sins.

Habakkuk openly questions the wisdom of God.

In the first part of the first chapter, the Prophet sees the injustice among his people and asks why God does not take action.

"1:2 Yahweh, how long will I cry, and you will not hear? I cry out to you “Violence!” and will you not save?" – World English Bible.

In the middle part of Chapter 1, God explains that he will send the Chaldeans (also known as the Babylonians) to punish his people. 1:5 “Look among the nations, watch, and wonder marvelously; for I am working a work in your days, which you will not believe though it is told you. 1:6 For, behold, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, that march through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs. (World English Bible)

One of the "Eighteen Emendations to the Hebrew Scriptures" appears at 1:12. (Actually there were more than eighteen.)

According to the professional Jewish scribes, the Sopherim, the text of 1:12 was changed from "You [God] do not die" to "We shall not die."

The Sopherim considered it disrespectful to say to God, "You do not die."

In the final part of the first chapter, the prophet expresses shock at God's choice of instrument for judgment. 1:13

You who have purer eyes than to see evil, and who cannot look on perversity, why do you tolerate those who deal treacherously, and keep silent when the wicked swallows up the man who is more righteous than he, (World English Bible)

In Chapter 2, he awaits God's response to his challenge. God explains that He will also judge the Chaldeans, and much more harshly. 2:8 Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples will plunder you, because of men’s blood, and for the violence done to the land, to the city and to all who dwell in it. 2:9 Woe to him who gets an evil gain for his house, (World English Bible)

Finally, in Chapter 3, Habakkuk expresses his ultimate faith in God, even if he doesn't fully understand. 3:17 For though the fig tree doesn’t flourish, nor fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive fails, the fields yield no food; the flocks are cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls: 3:18 yet I will rejoice in Yahweh. I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! (World English Bible)

 

IMPORTANCE

The book of Habakkuk is accepted as canonical by adherents of the Jewish and Christian faiths.

A commentary on the first two chapters of the book was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran. Passages from Habakkuk are quoted by authors of the New Testament, and its message has inspired modern Christian hymn writers.

 

JUDAISM

The Book of Habakkuk is the eighth book of the Twelve Prophets of the Hebrew Bible, and this collection appears in all copies of texts of the Septuagint, the Ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible completed by 132 BC.

Likewise, the book of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus), also written in the 2nd century BC, mentions "The Twelve Prophets".

A partial copy of Habakkuk itself is included in the Habakkuk Commentary, a pesher found among the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947.

The Commentary contains a copy of the first two chapters of Habakkuk, but not of the third chapter.

The writer of the pesher draws a comparison between the Babylonian invasion of the original text and the Roman threat of the writer's own period.

What is even more significant than the commentary in the pesher is the quoted text of Habakkuk itself.

The divergences between the Hebrew text of the scroll and the standard Masoretic Text are startlingly minimal.

The biggest differences are word order, small grammatical variations, addition or omission of conjunctions, and spelling variations, but these are small enough to not to damage the meaning of the text.

Some scholars suggest that Chapter 3 may be a later independent addition to the book, in part because it is not included among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

However, this chapter does appear in all copies of the Septuagint, as well as in texts from as early as the 3rd century BC.

This final chapter is a poetic praise of God, and has some similarities with texts found in the Book of Daniel.

However, the fact that the third chapter is written in a different style, as a liturgical piece, does not necessarily mean that Habakkuk was not also its author.

Its omission from the Dead Sea Scrolls is attributed to the inability of the Qumran sect to fit Habakkuk's theology with their own narrow viewpoint.

 

CHRISTIANITY

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, 16th-century painting.

Habakkuk 2:4 is well known in Christianity:

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,

but the righteous shall live by his faith.

The second half of this verse [a] is quoted by some of the earliest Christian writers.

Although this passage is only three words in the original Hebrew,[b] it is quoted three times in the New Testament.

Paul the Apostle quotes this verse twice in his epistles: in Epistle to the Romans (Romans 1:17) and again in Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 3:11).

In doing so, Paul extends Habakkuk's original concept of righteous living at the present time into a future life.

The same verse is quoted in Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:37–38), where Habakkuk's vision is tied to Christ and used to comfort the church during a period of persecution.

These three epistles are considered to be "the three great doctrinal books of the New Testament," and Habakkuk's statement concerning faith forms the backbone of each book.

Modern Christian hymns have been inspired by the words of the prophet Habakkuk.

The Christian hymn "The Lord is in His Holy Temple", written in 1900 by William J. Kirkpatrick, is based on verse 2:20.

The fourth verse of William Cowper's hymn "Sometimes a Light Surprises", written in 1779, quotes Habakkuk 3:17–18.

Though vine nor fig-tree neither,
Their wonted fruit shall bear,
Though all the field should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice,
For, while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.
— William Cowper, 1779

CHAPTER 1

WHY DOES GOD NOT HELP?

1:1 The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.

1:2 O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! [even] cry out unto thee [of] violence, and thou wilt not save!

1:3 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.

1:4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.

 

IT IS THE JUDGMENT OF GOD

1:5 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.]

1:6 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 theirs.

1:7 They [are] terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves.

1:8 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.

1:9 They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up [as] the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.

1:10 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.

1:11 Then shall [his] mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, [imputing] this his power unto his god.

 

HOW FAR WILL THIS JUDGMENT GO?

1:12 [Art] 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.

1:13 [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?

1:14 And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, [that have] no ruler over them?

1:15 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.

1:16 Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion [is] fat, and their meat plenteous.

1:17 Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations?

CHAPTER 2

THE WATCHMAN

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.

 

THE REVELATION TO COME

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

2:3 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.

2:4 Behold, his soul [which] is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.

2:5 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:

2:6 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!

2:7 Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them?

2:8 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.

2:9 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!

2:10 Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned [against] thy soul.

2:11 For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.

2:12 Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!

 

MANIKD REVEALS ITS TOTAL CORRUPT NATURE

2:13 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?

2:14 For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

2:15 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!

2:16 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.

2:17 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.

2:18 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?

2:19 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.

 

THE LORD WATCHES

2:20 But the LORD [is] in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.

CHAPTER 3

THE PRAYER OF HABAKKUK

3:1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.

3:2 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.

 

JEREMIAH CHAPTER 4

3:3 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.

3:4 And [his] brightness was as the light; he had horns [coming] out of his hand: and there [was] the hiding of his power.

3:5 Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet.

3:6 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.

3:7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: [and] the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.

3:8 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?

3:9 Thy bow was made quite naked, [according] to the oaths of the tribes, [even thy] word. Selah. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers.

3:10 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.

3:11 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.

3:12 Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh the heathen in anger.

3:13 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.

3:14 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.

3:15 Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, [through] the heap of great waters.

3:16 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.

 

PARABLE OF THE FRUITLESS FIG TREE

3:17 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:

 

SALVATION

3:18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

3:19 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.