Date: Seventh Century B.C.
Habakkuk prophesied during the last days of Judah, just before its destruction by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. In the year 605, at the great battle of Carchemish, the Babylonians defeated what was left of the old Assyrian army and the Egyptians. That opened the way for Babylon as the new world power to exert its influence along the major trade route that ran from the Fertile Crescent down to Egypt, running right through Judah. It was only a matter of time before Judah would feel the heavy hand of Babylon, and Habakkuk, with prophetic insight, knew that.
Habakkuk did not cry out against the sins of Judah as such, but came at the problem in a different way. Because he was convinced that God is good and all-powerful, he wondered out loud why God allowed these things to happen. Granted Judah was sinful, but God was strong enough to do something about it, so why didn’t he? That kind of approach to the problem is almost unheard of in the Old Testament. The Book of Job looks at evil in somewhat this fashion, but Habakkuk is alone among the prophets in doing so.
Theological Themes in the Book of Habakkuk
Habakkuk got his point across by using the question-and-answer method; he asked a question and God supplied the answer. Question #1 is found in 1:2-4. It asks, in essence, why God allows evil. Justice has failed, the poor are oppressed, violence is to be seen on every hand, and God seems to let it happen.
Answer #1 is in 1:5-11. God responds that he is about to enter in and punish the sin he sees in Judah. He will accomplish this by using the Chaldeans (Babylonians) as the rod of his anger. They are terrible in warfare, proud, worshipers of their own strength, merciless to captives, and destined to win.
That raised an even more serious question in Habakkuk’s mind. How could God use an even more evil nation to punish Judah (1:12-2:1)? God is so pure that he cannot look on evil, yet he is about to make use of the Babylonians. How could that be? God gave a two-part answer. In 2:6-19 the practical, historical aspect of the question is answered. Babylon, too, will be judged. In 2:2-4 the theological aspect of Habakkuk’s question is answered in some of the most important words to be found in the Bible–the just shall live by faith. God told Habakkuk that human logic might fail, but God’s wisdom will not. Even though we cannot understand the way things are going, that doesn’t mean there is no answer. God has the answer and the one who would be just (righteous) before God must learn to trust him and live by faith. In one sense this is not so much an answer to the question as an invitation to realize who God is. That made Habakkuk understand he had been talking too much. The proper attitude to have in the presence of God is silence: the silence of quiet acceptance, not the sullen silence of resignation to our fate (2:20).
Next comes one of the most beautiful prayers in the Old Testament, ending with Habakkuk’s affirmation of faith (3:17-19). We can rejoice in the Lord even if everything is taken away from us. Because that actually happened in Habakkuk’s case, he is an example of how to face the worst that life has to offer us.
Habakkuk shows how God was able to use the Babylonians, even though they did not acknowledge him as God. God is Lord of all the earth, even over those who refuse to accept him as such. It doesn’t really matter to God, because he is the only God who exists.
Outline for the Book of Habakkuk
- Introduction Habakkuk 1:1
- The problem of Judah’s sin Habakkuk 1:2-4
- The judgment of Judah’s sin Habakkuk 1:5-11
- Habakkuk’s second question Habakkuk 1:12-2:1
- God’s answer and call to faith Habakkuk 2:2-19
- Habakkuk’s triumph of faith Habakkuk 2:20-3:19