The Book of Habakkuk divides naturally into two clearly defined sections. There is a segment in which the prophet seeks and receives answers from God in response to some hard questions. This is followed by a psalm of praise in chapter 3. The author, Habakkuk, is unknown to modern readers beyond the little bit we can glean from the book itself. Habakkuk was clearly aware that Jerusalem and Judah were under threat from the Babylonians. This means most scholars date this book in the late 7th century B.C., perhaps soon after the reign of Josiah. The Book of Habakkuk Is presented as a dialogue between God and the prophet. It was composed for the benefit of the people of Judah. Habakkuk was troubled by Judah’s idolatry, indifference to God, and social injustice, and he wondered how long God would ignore the blatant wickedness of His people. God responded by revealing that His judgement would come through the Babylonians. Habakkuk, like Job, raised the question of the justice of God, but he did so in the historical context of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, and in the literary context of the prophets. Habakkuk asked God how He could continue to tolerate injustice. God answered that He would punish His people by means of the Babylonians, a people even more wicked than Judah. This perplexed Habakkuk. How could God use someone even more wicked than the people they were coming to chasten. He reminded God that the Babylonians were a pagan nation and they were ruthless. God assured His prophet by saying the nation who had plundered many others would soon face the same problem. In short, the Book of Habakkuk is a defense of the justice of God, and a call for believers to maintain their faith even in the midst of difficult times.
There are a couple of themes in the Book of Habakkuk. The first is justice. He affirmed that God is both just and holy and never indifferent to sin and injustice. And in fact God has an appointed time when He will punish the wicked. The second theme is faith. Faith is needed to endure injustice and even when life seems confusing, God’s people are to wait patiently for His deliverance, trusting that there will be a time when He will make all things right. Just like Abraham waited patiently for God to fulfill His promises, Habakkuk and the faithful remnant were to wait for Him to respond in justice, so believers of every age are called to wait in faith for God to carry out His purposes.
Once again we see that the words of the prophet are from God, and he received them in a vision. Habakkuk wasted no time in questioning God. The first thing he asked about is about God’s seeming inactivity. He uses God’s formal name…LORD, and the questions come in the form of a lament. Habakkuk felt that God seemed indifferent to the evil in society and was unresponsive to Habakkuk’s complaints about it. In Habakkuk’s day destruction and violence permeated Judean society. Everywhere Habakkuk looked he saw injustice and unrighteousness. Even in the courts where the law was supposed to be kept, there was no longer justice. God’s response to this concern of Habakkuk is startling. He would send the Babylonians, a violent people, to deal with the violence in Judah. The Babylonian army was virtually unstoppable. In verse 5 Habakkuk used two different versions of the word look. One is translated see and the other watch. God is clearly in control, moving the nations where He wants them to serve His purposes. There would be no relief from injustice at the hands of the Babylonians. They were really a law unto themselves which added to Habakkuk’s confusion about why God would use them to punish Judah. Using the vivid images of cheetahs/leopards, wolves, and eagles serves to high light the predatory nature of Babylon along with their speed and ferocity. God has left Habakkuk scratching his head. Habakkuk had seen violence in Judah but Babylon…relished violence. They resettled numerous peoples with very little regard for them as individuals, including Judah and Jerusalem. Deporting people was a matter of deliberate national policy for Babylon.
The Babylonians worshiped many false gods, but the arrogance they placed on their own military strength amounted to one more idol in their mix. The rest of chapter 1 is Habakkuk trying to reconcile God’s answer about using Babylon, with what he thought he knew of God’s character. How could a holy and just God chastise Judah by using a people who were more unrighteous than they were. Through all this, Habakkuk not renounce God. In fact, he reaffirmed his commitment to the Lord before he asked Him serious questions about what God had revealed to Him. Because God was in a covenant relationship with His people, Habakkuk was fairly certain God would not wipe His people out. And then Habakkuk called God rock. Rocks are a common image of God’s faithfulness in scripture. Habakkuk reminded God that He was pure. He wondered how God could look on as the wicked Babylonians perverted justice. This was Habakkuk’s ethical dilemma. The Judeans were less corrupt and idolatrous than the Babylonians who were being sent to judge them for their sins. Habakkuk became even more daring. He charged the Lord with reducing the people to fish, or insects, and with causing chaos among the nations. He portrayed the Babylonians as fishermen, reeling in conquered people. After they had completed this task, the Babylonians would worship the devices of their destruction, in this instant it was their fishing equipment. But how could God let them get away with this activity unchecked? Habakkuk reasoned that surely God had a desire to punish the Babylonians too.
Habakkuk stationed himself as a watchman to look at the nations, as God had commanded him. He was like a sentinel on duty. Habakkuk waited expectantly to see how God would answer his complaint, even if that meant being reproved by the Lord. We see here Habakkuk’s submission to the Lord. The bulk of chapter 2 is God responding to Habakkuk’s second complaint, without explaining why He had chosen to use the Babylonians. Instead, God assured Habakkuk that all violence and injustice will be punished. Habakkuk’s mission was to make it clear to people that even if God’s justice seems slow in coming, it will come. God instructed Habakkuk to write the vision plainly so that it will be understood, preserved, and shared with others. God promised that surely what Habakkuk had seen in the vision would take place. It would happen at a set time in the future known only to the Lord. He will intervene in earth’s history and bring it to proper culmination, vindicating the righteous and judging the wicked. But God’s people must wait patiently knowing the divine plan is right on schedule. God is well aware of the self centeredness of the proud. Their crooked lives demonstrate their unrighteousness. They refuse God’s instruction and gratify their own desires. In contrast, the righteous enjoy a proper judicial standing before God. They make God’s righteous standards their own and reproduce them in their own lives. God will transform the hearts of those who trust Him so that they can faithfully follow God’s holy standards.
Verses 6-20 form five taunt songs that portray God’s future judgement of the Babylonians. God allows them to seal their own doom. Those who suffer will be able to repeat these taunts when the wicked come to judgement. Each taunt contains a pronouncement of sorrow or woe, a judgement, and the reason for God’s judgement. Verses 6-8 are the first of the taunt songs. He condemns the Babylonians for despoiling the nations. Habakkuk calls them thieves and charges them with extortion. This imagery compares the Babylonians to creditors whose oppressive tactics cause their debtors to rise up against them. Greed can very easily mar an individual or a nations spiritual fiber. Verses 9-11 form the second taunt song. Here the Babylonians are condemned for their dishonest dealings. Since they obtained the means to build big houses through deceit and dishonesty they would forfeit their lives. Moving to the third taunt song we go to verses 12-14. Here the Babylonians are condemned for the murder and corruption of human Life and society that brought wealth to build their cities. Gods would make their apparent gains prove to be a total loss. Habakkuk speaks of God as the commander of the armies of heaven. The antithesis of violence and ill gotten wealth is the awareness of the glory of the Lord, which God promises to make as pervasive as water in the ocean. The glory of the pLord speaks of the full manifestation of His person, significance, presence, and wonder. In the fourth taunt song the Babylonians are condemned for their disgraceful acts against people, animals, and the environment. They are like a person who seems hospitable but after getting their neighbors drunk, strips them of everything. But, the Babylonians will be disgraced after drinking from the cup of the Lord’s judgement and wrath. Verses 18-20 find the Babylonians condemned for their devotion to idolatry. Whether idols are carved or cast by the hand of man, they can neither save nor teach their worshippers. Only the Lord truly deserves our worship. The taunt songs close with a declaration: The One who is sovereign over all nations is not a Babylonian idol, but the one, true, Holy, and living God. Unlike all the lifeless Babylonian idols, the living God dwells in His holy temple. God’s presence fills His heavenly sanctuary, and in Habakkuk’s time, it filled the temple in Jerusalem. God controls all the earth and expects people to worship Him in humble submission.
Habakkuk’s prophecy concludes with a psalm like prayer. He stands in awe before the Sovereign One who sits enthroned in His holy temple. In light of God’s message of Judah’s coming chastisement, Habakkuk prays that God, who has miraculously intervened on Israel’s behalf in the past will once again make known His work of redemption. Habakkuk praises God’s power to save. The two praise stanzas, 3-7 and 8-15 are a poetic reflection upon Israel’s exodus experience. And although Habakkuk’s focus is on God’s redemption of His people, his imagery occasionally reflects ideas found in ancient Near Eastern tales concerning the gods. This imagery reminds Habakkuk’s original readers that the Lord alone is the one true God who is sovereign over all these things. Teman was one of Edom’s chief cities and this term here could refer to the city or the entire region where the city was located. By using Mount Paran as well, Habakkuk was most likely referring to the entire region. Holy One here is a prominent title for God because holiness is His defining characteristic. The Lord who once appeared on Mount Sinai and filled the southern land with His glory, fills the heavens with His splendor. God is the divine warrior who intervenes on behalf of His own. The use of pestilence and fever are plagues personified as messengers of judgement. They are like soldiers in God’s army, fulfilling his purposes.
Midian was south and east of the Jordan River and the nation was trembling in terror at the earth shaking power of God’s presence. The Lord is a divine warrior for His people, living in redemptive power on their behalf. The image of God as Divine Warrior is common in scripture. Habakkuk wondered aloud if God had struck the Red Sea out of anger. This is a look back to the Egyptian chariots that pursued the Israelites after the exodus. Again Habakkuk reminds the people that God controls all of nature, the earth, the waters, the mountains, the deep, the sun, moon and stars. The Lord’s acts of vengeance against the nations would comfort His people because those acts would lead to their salvation. The people of God as a nation were anointed. Habakkuk was overcome with a sense of awe at God, as well as a sense of his own weakness. The full realization of God’s mighty power absolutely sapped Habakkuk’s strength to the point that he trembled. He would wait patiently and quietly for God’s judgement to descend.
After recounting God’s mighty acts of redemption and pausing to consider them, Habakkuk now reaffirms his trust in God as he closes his prayer. Habakkuk covers a list of, even though…yet I will still rejoice items. Even if God never pours out material blessings on His people again, He is still worthy of all the trust and praise they can give. Come what may, Habakkuk could rejoice knowing that the Lord is not only Israel’s Redeemer, but he is also the source of His own salvation. Habakkuk owed whatever strength he had to the Sovereign Lord, his Savior. He compared his spiritual climb to a deer swiftly ascending to the mountain tops and gracefully gliding over them. And like a victorious army, the righteous , with God’s strength will occupy the high hills.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W