Bible Book Number 35—Habakkuk
Place Written: Judah
Writing Completed: c. 628 B.C.E.(?)
1. What sublime truths are highlighted in the prophecy of Habakkuk?
HABAKKUK is another of the so-called minor prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, his vision and pronouncement inspired by God are by no means minor in significance to God’s people. Encouraging as well as strengthening, his prophecy sustains God’s servants in time of stress. The book highlights two sublime truths: Jehovah God is the Universal Sovereign, and the righteous live by faith. The writing serves also as a warning to opposers of God’s servants and to those who hypocritically profess to be his people. It sets a pattern for strong faith in Jehovah, who is worthy of all songs of praise.
2. What information is given about the writer, Habakkuk?
2 The book of Habakkuk opens: “The pronouncement that Habakkuk the prophet visioned.” (Hab. 1:1) Who was this prophet Habakkuk (Hebrew, Chavaq·quqʹ), whose name means “Ardent Embrace”? No information is provided concerning Habakkuk’s parentage, tribe, circumstances in life, or death. Whether he was a Levitical temple musician cannot be stated definitely, although this has been inferred from the subscription at the end of the book: “To the director on my stringed instruments.”
3. What circumstances affecting Judah help to indicate the time of writing of Habakkuk?
3 When did Habakkuk make his prophetic pronouncements? The above-mentioned subscription and the words “Jehovah is in his holy temple” indicate that the temple in Jerusalem was still standing. (2:20) This, together with the message of the prophecy, suggests that it was spoken not long before Jerusalem’s destruction in 607 B.C.E. But how many years before? It must have been after the reign of God-fearing King Josiah, 659-629 B.C.E. The prophecy itself provides the clue in foretelling an activity that the people in Judah will not believe even if it is related. What is this? It is the raising up of the Chaldeans (Babylonians) by God to punish faithless Judah. (1:5, 6) This would fit the early part of the reign of idolatrous King Jehoiakim, a time when disbelief and injustice were rampant in Judah. Jehoiakim had been put on the throne by Pharaoh Necho, and the nation was within Egypt’s sphere of influence. Under such circumstances the people would feel they had cause to discredit any possibility of invasion from Babylon. But Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Necho in the battle of Carchemish in 625 B.C.E., thus breaking the power of Egypt. The prophecy would therefore have been delivered before that event. So the indications point to the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign (begun in 628 B.C.E.), making Habakkuk a contemporary of Jeremiah.
4. What proves the book of Habakkuk to be inspired of God?
4 How can we know that the book is inspired of God? Ancient catalogs of the Hebrew Scriptures confirm the canonicity of Habakkuk. While they do not mention the book by name, it was evidently included in their references to the ‘twelve Minor Prophets,’ for without Habakkuk there would not be 12. The apostle Paul recognized the prophecy as part of the inspired Scriptures and makes a direct quotation of Habakkuk 1:5, referring to it as something “said in the Prophets.” (Acts 13:40, 41) He made several references to the book in his letters. Certainly the fulfillment of Habakkuk’s utterances against Judah and Babylon marks him as a true prophet of Jehovah, in whose name and for whose glory he spoke.
5. Briefly summarize the contents of Habakkuk.
5 The book of Habakkuk is made up of three chapters. The first two chapters 1, 2 are a dialogue between the writer and Jehovah. They relate the strength of the Chaldeans, as well as the grief awaiting the Babylonian nation that multiplies what is not its own, that makes evil gain for its house, that builds a city by bloodshed, and that worships the carved image. The third chapter 3 deals with the magnificence of Jehovah in the day of battle, and it is unrivaled in the power and vibrancy of its dramatic style. This chapter is a prayer in dirges and has been called “one of the most splendid and magnificent within the whole compass of Hebrew poetry.”a
CONTENTS OF HABAKKUK
6. What is the condition in Judah, and what amazing activity will Jehovah therefore carry on?
6 The prophet cries out to Jehovah (1:1–2:1). Faithlessness in Judah has provoked questions in Habakkuk’s mind. “How long, O Jehovah, must I cry for help, and you do not hear?” he asks. “Why are despoiling and violence in front of me?” (1:2, 3) Law grows numb, the wicked one is surrounding the righteous one, and justice goes forth crooked. Because of this, Jehovah will carry on an activity that will cause amazement, something that the “people will not believe although it is related.” He is actually “raising up the Chaldeans”! Frightful indeed is the vision that Jehovah gives of this fierce nation as it comes swiftly. It is devoted to violence, and it gathers up captives “just like the sand.” (1:5, 6, 9) Nothing will stand in its way, not even kings and high officials, for it laughs at all of them. It captures every fortified place. All of this is for a judgment and a reproving from Jehovah, the “Holy One.” (1:12) Habakkuk waits attentively for God to speak.
7. How does Jehovah comfort Habakkuk?
7 The vision of the five woes (2:2-20). Jehovah answers: “Write down the vision, and set it out plainly upon tablets.” Even if it seems to be delayed, it will without fail come true. Jehovah comforts Habakkuk with the words: “As for the righteous one, by his faithfulness he will keep living.” (2:2, 4) The self-assuming foe will not reach his goal, even though he keeps gathering to himself nations and peoples. Why, these are the very ones who will take up against him the proverbial saying of the five woes:
8, 9. Against what kinds of persons are the five woes of the vision directed?
8 “Woe to him who is multiplying what is not his own.” He himself will become something to pillage. He will be despoiled “because of the shedding of blood of mankind and the violence to the earth.” (2:6, 8) “Woe to the one that is making evil gain for his house.” His cutting off of many peoples will cause the very stones and woodwork of his house to cry out. (2:9) “Woe to the one that is building a city by bloodshed.” His peoples will toil only for fire and nothingness, declares Jehovah. “For the earth will be filled with the knowing of the glory of Jehovah as the waters themselves cover over the sea.”—2:12, 14.
9 ‘Woe to the one who in anger makes his companion drunk so as to see his parts of shame.’ Jehovah will make him drink from the cup of His right hand, bringing him disgrace in place of glory “because of the shedding of blood of mankind and the violence done to the earth.” Of what use is a carved image to its maker—are not such valueless gods speechless? (2:15, 17) “Woe to the one saying to the piece of wood: ‘O do awake!’ to a dumb stone: ‘O wake up! It itself will give instruction’!” In contrast with these lifeless gods, “Jehovah is in his holy temple. Keep silence before him, all the earth!”—2:19, 20.
10. What fearsome activity accompanies Jehovah’s appearing in the day of battle?
10 Jehovah in the day of battle (3:1-19). In solemn prayer, Habakkuk graphically recalls the fearsome activity of Jehovah. At Jehovah’s appearing “his dignity covered the heavens; and with his praise the earth became filled.” (3:3) His brightness was like the light, and pestilence kept going before him. He stood still, shaking up the earth, causing the nations to leap and the eternal mountains to be smashed. Jehovah went riding like a mighty warrior with naked bow and with chariots of salvation. Mountains and the watery deep were agitated. Sun and moon stood still, and there were the light of his arrows and the lightning of his spear as he marched through the earth, threshing the nations in anger. He went forth for the salvation of his people and of his anointed one and for the laying bare of the foundation of the wicked one, “clear up to the neck.”—3:13.
11. How does the vision affect Habakkuk, but what is his determination?
11 The prophet is overwhelmed by this vision of the might of Jehovah’s former work and of his coming world-shaking activity. “I heard, and my belly began to be agitated; at the sound my lips quivered; rottenness began to enter into my bones; and in my situation I was agitated, that I should quietly wait for the day of distress, for his coming up to the people, that he may raid them.” (3:16) However, Habakkuk is determined that regardless of the bad times that must be faced—no blossom on the fig tree, no yield on the vines, no flock in the pen—still he will exult in Jehovah and be joyful in the God of his salvation. He concludes his song of ecstasy with the words: “Jehovah the Sovereign Lord is my vital energy; and he will make my feet like those of the hinds, and upon my high places he will cause me to tread.”—3:19.
12. What beneficial applications of Habakkuk 2:4 did Paul make?
12 Recognizing Habakkuk’s prophecy as beneficial for teaching, the apostle Paul quoted from chapter 2, verse 4, on three different occasions. When stressing that the good news is God’s power for salvation to everyone having faith, Paul wrote the Christians in Rome: “For in it God’s righteousness is being revealed by reason of faith and toward faith, just as it is written: ‘But the righteous one—by means of faith he will live.’” When writing the Galatians, Paul stressed the point that blessing comes through faith: “That by law no one is declared righteous with God is evident, because ‘the righteous one will live by reason of faith.’” Paul also wrote in his letter to the Hebrews that Christians must show a live, soul-preserving faith, and he again referred to Jehovah’s words to Habakkuk. However, he quotes not only Habakkuk’s words, “my righteous one will live by reason of faith,” but also his further words according to the Greek Septuagint: “If he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” Then he sums up by saying: We are “the sort that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.”—Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38, 39.
13. The accurate fulfillment of Habakkuk’s prophecies against Judah and Babylon emphasize what as to God’s judgments?
13 Habakkuk’s prophecy is most beneficial today to Christians, who need vital energy. It teaches reliance upon God. It is also beneficial for warning others of God’s judgments. The warning lesson is forceful: Do not consider God’s judgments as being too delayed; they will “without fail come true.” (Hab. 2:3) Without fail the prophecy of Judah’s destruction by Babylon came true, and without fail Babylon itself was captured, the Medes and Persians taking the city in 539 B.C.E. What a warning to believe God’s words! Thus, the apostle Paul found it beneficial to quote Habakkuk when he warned the Jews of his day not to be faithless: “See to it that what is said in the Prophets does not come upon you, ‘Behold it, you scorners, and wonder at it, and vanish away, because I am working a work in your days, a work that you will by no means believe even if anyone relates it to you in detail.’” (Acts 13:40, 41; Hab. 1:5, LXX) The faithless Jews would not heed Paul, even as they had not believed Jesus’ warning of Jerusalem’s destruction; they suffered the consequences for their faithlessness when Rome’s armies devastated Jerusalem in 70 C.E.—Luke 19:41-44.
14. (a) How does Habakkuk’s prophecy encourage Christians today to hold strong faith? (b) As stated in the prophecy, what joyful confidence may lovers of righteousness now have?
14 Likewise, today, Habakkuk’s prophecy encourages Christians to hold strong faith, while living in a world filled with violence. It helps them to teach others and to answer the question people all over the world have asked, Will God execute vengeance on the wicked? Note again the words of the prophecy: “Keep in expectation of it; for it will without fail come true. It will not be late.” (Hab. 2:3) Whatever the commotions that occur in the earth, the anointed remnant of Kingdom heirs recall Habakkuk’s words concerning Jehovah’s past acts of vengeance: “You went forth for the salvation of your people, to save your anointed one.” (3:13) Jehovah is indeed their “Holy One,” from long ago, and the “Rock” who will reprove the unrighteous and give life to those whom he embraces in his love. All who love righteousness may rejoice in his Kingdom and sovereignty, saying: “As for me, I will exult in Jehovah himself; I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. Jehovah the Sovereign Lord is my vital energy.”—1:12; 3:18, 19.
a The Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets, 1868, E. Henderson, page 285.