HABAKKUK, BOOK OF
A book of the Hebrew Scriptures in eighth place among the so-called minor prophets in the Hebrew and Septuagint texts, as well as in common English Bibles. It is in two parts: (1) A dialogue between the writer and Jehovah (chaps 1, 2); (2) a prayer in dirges.—Chap 3.
Canonicity. The canonicity of the book of Habakkuk is confirmed by ancient catalogs of the Hebrew Scriptures. While they do not mention it by name, the book evidently was embraced by their references to the ‘twelve Minor Prophets,’ for otherwise the number 12 would be incomplete. The book’s canonicity is unquestionably supported by quotations from it in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Though not referring to Habakkuk by name, Paul quoted Habakkuk 1:5 (LXX) while speaking to faithless Jews. (Ac 13:40, 41) He quoted from Habakkuk 2:4 (“But as for the righteous one, by his faithfulness he will keep living”) when encouraging Christians to display faith.—Ro 1:16, 17; Ga 3:11; Heb 10:38, 39.
Among the Dead Sea Scrolls is a manuscript of Habakkuk (chaps 1, 2) in a pre-Masoretic Hebrew text with an accompanying commentary. It is noteworthy that in the text Jehovah’s name is written in ancient Hebrew characters, whereas in the commentary the divine name is avoided, and instead, the Hebrew word ʼEl (meaning “God”) is used.
Scholars believe that this scroll was written toward the end of the first century B.C.E. This makes it the oldest extant Hebrew manuscript of the book of Habakkuk. At Habakkuk 1:6 this manuscript reads “Chaldeans,” thus confirming the correctness of the Masoretic text in showing that the Chaldeans (Babylonians) were the ones Jehovah would raise up as his agency.
Date and Setting. The statement “Jehovah is in his holy temple” (Hab 2:20) and the note that follows Habakkuk 3:19 (“To the director on my stringed instruments”) indicate that Habakkuk prophesied before the temple built by Solomon in Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 B.C.E. Also, Jehovah’s declaration “I am raising up the Chaldeans” (1:6) and the prophecy’s general tenor show that the Chaldeans, or Babylonians, had not yet desolated Jerusalem. But Habakkuk 1:17 may suggest that they had already begun to overthrow some nations. During the reign of Judah’s good king Josiah (659-629 B.C.E.), the Chaldeans and Medes took Nineveh (in 632 B.C.E.), and Babylon was then on its way toward becoming a world power.—Na 3:7.
There are some who hold, in agreement with rabbinic tradition, that Habakkuk prophesied earlier, during the reign of King Manasseh of Judah. They believe that he was one of the prophets mentioned or alluded to at 2 Kings 21:10 and 2 Chronicles 33:10. They hold that the Babylonians were not yet a menace, which fact made Habakkuk’s prophecy more unbelievable to the Judeans.—See Hab 1:5, 6.
On the other hand, in the early part of Jehoiakim’s reign, Judah was within the Egyptian sphere of influence (2Ki 23:34, 35), and this could also be a time when God’s raising up of the Chaldeans to punish the wayward inhabitants of Judah would be to them ‘an activity they would not believe, though it was related.’ (Hab 1:5, 6) Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Necho at Carchemish in 625 B.C.E., in the fourth year of King Jehoiakim’s reign. (Jer 46:2) So, Habakkuk may have prophesied and recorded the prophecy before that event, possibly completing the writing thereof about 628 B.C.E. in Judah. The use of the future tense regarding the Chaldean threat evidently indicates a date earlier than Jehoiakim’s vassalship to Babylon (620-618 B.C.E.).—2Ki 24:1.
Style. The style of writing is both forceful and moving. Vivid illustrations and comparisons are employed. (Hab 1:8, 11, 14, 15; 2:5, 11, 14, 16, 17; 3:6, 8-11) Commenting on Habakkuk’s style, S. R. Driver said: “The literary power of Habakkuk is considerable. Though his book is a brief one, it is full of force; his descriptions are graphic and powerful; thought and expression are alike poetic.” Such qualities are, of course, primarily due to divine inspiration.
The book of Habakkuk emphasizes Jehovah’s supremacy over all nations (Hab 2:20; 3:6, 12), highlighting his universal sovereignty. It also places emphasis on the fact that the righteous live by faith. (2:4) It engenders reliance upon Jehovah, showing that he does not die (1:12), that he justly threshes the nations, and that he goes forth for the salvation of his people. (3:12, 13) For those exulting in him, Jehovah is shown to be the God of salvation and the Source of vital energy.—3:18, 19.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF HABAKKUK
An answer to the question, Will God execute the wicked?
Written evidently about 628 B.C.E., when the Chaldeans were rising in prominence but before Jehoiakim became their vassal
Habakkuk cries out for help, asks how long God will allow the wicked to continue (1:1–2:1)
When Jehovah answers that He will raise up the Chaldeans as His instrument for punishment, Habakkuk cannot understand how the Holy One could countenance such a treacherous agent, one who makes a god of his war machine, whose dragnet gathers up men like fish, and who mercilessly kills peoples
The prophet waits for Jehovah’s answer, recognizing that he is in line for reproof
Jehovah replies that he has an appointed time, pronounces woe upon the Chaldean agency (2:2-20)
Jehovah gives the assurance that even though there might seem to be delay, the prophetic vision is “for the appointed time, and it keeps panting on to the end,” eagerly moving toward its fulfillment
Pronouncements of woe indicate that the Chaldean instrumentality would not remain unpunished for plundering other nations, cutting off many peoples, building cities by bloodshed, making others drink the cup of shameful defeat, and engaging in idolatry
The prophet appeals for Jehovah to act and yet to show mercy during the coming day of distress (3:1-19)
Recalling past manifestations of Jehovah’s power, the prophet is seized with fear and trembling, but he is determined to wait quietly for the day of distress, exulting in the God of his salvation
Even if the very means for supporting life were to fail, Habakkuk determines to rejoice in Jehovah as the God of salvation, the One who strengthens him