The Book of Habakkuk
Little is known of Habakkuk beyond the two mentions of his name in this book of prophecy. Both times, he identified himself as ‘the prophet Habakkuk’, a term that seems to indicate Habakkuk was a professional prophet. This probably indicates that he was trained in the Law of Moses in a prophetic school, an institution for educating prophets that became common after the days of Samuel (1 Samuel 19:20 and 2 Kings 4:38). Habakkuk also could have been a priest involved with the worship of God at the temple. This assumption is based on the book’s final, psalm-like statement: <<To the leader: with stringed instruments>> (Habakkuk 3:19b).
Determining the date of the book of Habakkuk is quite a bit easier than dating most books. He spoke often of an imminent Babylonian invasion (1:6, 2:1 and 3:16), an event that occurred on a smaller scale in 605BC before the total destruction Jerusalem in 586BC. The way Habakkuk described Judah indicates a low time in its history. If the dating is to remain close to the Babylonian invasion, Habakkuk likely prophesied in the first five years of Jehoiakim’s reign (609–598BC) to a king who led his people into evil.
Habakkuk’s prophecy was directed to a world that, through the eyes of God’s people, must have seemed on the edge of disaster. Even when the Northern Kingdom had been destroyed in 722BC, God’s people remained in Judah. However, with the powerful Babylonian army on the rampage, faithful people like Habakkuk were wondering what God was doing. Hadn’t he given the land to his people? Would he now take it away? Habakkuk’s prayer of faith for the remainder of God’s people in the face of such destruction still stands today as a remarkable witness of true faith and undying hope.
Habakkuk provides one of the most remarkable sections in all of Scripture, as it contains an extended dialogue between Habakkuk and God (Habakkuk Chapters 1–2). The prophet initiated this conversation based on his distress about God’s apparent inaction in the world. He wanted to see God do something more, particularly in the area of justice for evildoers. The Book of Habakkuk pictures a frustrated prophet, much like Jonah, although Habakkuk channelled his frustration into prayers and eventually praise to God, rather than trying to run away from the Lord as Jonah did.
As the prophet Habakkuk stood in Jerusalem and pondered the state of his nation Judah, he must have been dumbfounded. So much evil thrived, completely in the open, but God remained strangely silent. Where was he? How long would he allow this mess to continue? Not long, according to the Lord: <<Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay>> (Habakkuk 2:2–3). It would be the Babylonians who would come and execute justice on the Lord’s behalf. The wicked in Judah, those who thought they would get away with their evil deeds forever, were soon to be punished.
The Book of Habakkuk offers a picture of a prideful people being humbled, while the righteous live by faith in God (2:4). It offers a reminder that, while God may seem silent and uninvolved in the world, he always has a plan to deal with evil and always works out justice – eventually. The example of the prophet Habakkuk encourages believers to wait on the Lord, expecting that he will indeed work out all things for good (Romans 8:28).
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