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.
The writer is identified in the book itself. The composition of both sections is ascribed to “Habakkuk the prophet.”—1:1; 3:1; see HABAKKUK.
The canonicity of the book of Habakkuk is confirmed by ancient catalogues 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 twelve 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. (Acts 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.—Rom. 1:16, 17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38, 39.
Among the Dead Sea Scrolls is a manuscript of “Habakkuk (chaps. 1, 2) consisting of a pre-Masoretic Hebrew text with an accompanying commentary. Though its date is uncertain, this scroll may be of the first century B.C.E. Even if of more recent origin, it is apparently the oldest extant Hebrew manuscript of the book of “Habakkuk. Interestingly, this scroll reads “Chaldeans” at Habakkuk 1:6, where certain scholars (with “Greeks” or “Macedonians” under Alexander the Great in mind) have sought to substitute “Kittim.” This manuscript thus agrees with the Masoretic text in showing that the Chaldeans were those 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. The Chaldeans and Medes took Nineveh in 632 B.C.E., and Babylon was then on its way toward becoming a world power. (Nah. 3:7) This was during the reign of Judah’s good king Josiah (659-629 B.C.E.).
There are some who hold, in agreement with rabbinical 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 Habakkuk 1:5, 6.
On the other hand, in the early part of Jehoiakim’s reign, Judah was within the Egyptian sphere of influence (2 Ki. 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 Nechoh 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 may indicate a date earlier than Jehoiakim’s vassalship to Babylon (620-618 B.C.E.).—2 Ki. 24:1.
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, the scholar 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.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. Plea for aid; Jehovah announces coming judgment (1:1-17)
A. Habakkuk cries for aid due to violence, wickedness in Judah (1:1-4)
B. Jehovah identifies Chaldeans as his instrument of judgment against the nations (1:5-11)
1. This frightful nation will swiftly gather captives like sand (1:5-9)
2. It will jeer kings, move onward like wind and become guilty (1:10, 11)
C. Habakkuk wonders why God allows the wicked to swallow up the righteous (1:12-17)
1. He asks why Jehovah, the Rock, looks on those dealing treacherously (1:12, 13)
2. God has made all Judah as fishes and creeping things without a ruler (1:14-16)
3. Will the enemy be allowed to keep killing nations constantly? (1:17)
II. Righteous live by faithfulness, but Chaldeans will be destroyed (2:1-20)
A. Prophet is to record vision, which will eventually come true (2:1-3)
B. By faithfulness, the righteous one will keep living (2:4)
C. The Chaldean’s end due, as shown by five woes (2:5-19)
1. For “multiplying what is not his own”; will be despoiled by others for his bloodshed and violence (2:5-8)
2. For “making evil gain for his house”; a stone of the wall will cry out (2:9-11)
3. Due to “building a city by bloodshed”; it is from Jehovah that peoples will toil on only for the fire (2:12-14)
4. For making companions drunk ‘to look upon their parts of shame’; will drink cup of Jehovah’s right hand and be disgraced (2:15-18)
5. Due to trusting in idols; there is no breath in them (2:19)
D. Jehovah is in his holy temple and all earth to keep silent (2:20)
III. Habakkuk prays for mercy amid judgment (3:1-19)
A. Makes plea for divine mercy and represents God as a mighty warrior (3:1-15)
1. God marches through earth with denunciation, threshing the nations (3:1-12)
2. He has gone forth for the salvation of His people (3:13-15)
B. Agitated, Habakkuk awaits “the day of distress,” expressing determination to exult in Jehovah, the God of salvation (3:16-19)