The title of this book, like those of other books of the Minor Prophets, is simply the name of the author. Habakkuk, Heb. Chabaqquq, is derived from the verb chabaq, “to embrace.” Some have connected the name with the Akkadian haЙmbaququ, the name of an aromatic garden plant. The name Habakkuk occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament.
2. Authorship. Nothing more is known of Habakkuk than what is revealed in his book. Whether, like Amos (see on Amos 7:14), Habakkuk was called by God from some other occupation, or whether he was specially trained for his calling in the schools of the prophets is not recorded.
Among the famous scroll finds of Khirbet QumraЖn (see p. 86; see also Vol. I, pp. 31–34) was one scroll dealing with the book of Habakkuk. Upon examination it proved to be an ancient midrash, or commentary, consisting of short passages quoted from Habakkuk followed by the writer’s interpretation of the passages. The writing is well preserved, but unfortunately there are many gaps, or lacunae. The commentary consists of 13 columns of writing and covers only the first two chapters of Habakkuk. The manuscript has been dated c. 100 b.c., about the time of the two Isaiah scrolls (see p. 87). Along with the more complete Isaiah scroll (1QIs, see p. 87) the Habakkuk Commentary has been published in facsimile plates, together with a parallel text in modern Hebrew characters, edited by Millar Burrows (The Dead Sea Scrolls of St. Mark’s Monastery, Vol. 1 [New Haven: American Schools of Oriental Research, 1950]).
The primary importance of the Habakkuk Commentary to Biblical scholarship is not in the comments themselves, interesting though they may be, but rather in the Bible text itself. This text, copied by some ancient sectarian scribe (probably an Essene), antedates by almost a millennium the oldest manuscripts of the Masoretic text (see Vol. I, pp. 34, 35). Hence it is invaluable for any textual study of the book of Habakkuk. See on chs. 1:4, 17; 2:1, 4, 5, 15, 16.
3. Historical Setting. It appears that this book was written during a time of deep apostasy (PK 386), probably sometime during the latter part of the reign of Manasseh, during the reign of Amon, or during the first part of the reign of Josiah. It seems most likely that the ministry of Habakkuk followed rather closely the ministry of the prophet Nahum. This view is favored by the position of the book in both the Hebrew and the Greek canon. The evils in general that Habakkuk attributes to his people, and of which he complains, also point to this period. The general date 630 b.c. has been assigned to his prophecy for reasons listed on p. 23. The prophet well knew the crisis that Babylon was soon to bring upon his people because of their sins, a crisis that would result finally in the captivity of Judah. Habakkuk forewarned the nation of this crisis and also predicted the divine judgment upon idolatrous and iniquitous Babylon, the enemy of God and His people.
4. Theme. Though Habakkuk regrets Judah’s sins and knows that his people deserve punishment, he is concerned about the outcome of their afflictions. He is concerned also about the destiny of the instrument God uses to inflict this punishment, the Chaldeans, who seem to be blessed with increasing prosperity. God responds to His servant’s questioning heart, and shows Habakkuk that the chastening of the Israelites is for their ultimate good, while the earthly prosperity of the wicked, represented by Babylon, will pass away because of divine judgment. In the “prayer” of ch. 3 this book is climaxed by a graphic depiction of the doom of the ungodly and the triumphant reward of the righteous.
In this contrast it is God’s purpose to reveal to the prophet how the swelling pride of the Chaldeans, and likewise that of all the wicked, leads to death, while the trustful submission of the righteous to God through faith leads to life. In this emphasis upon holiness and faith Habakkuk takes his place with Isaiah as a gospel prophet.
The book of Habakkuk provides a solution to the problem of why God permits sinners to flourish, comparable to the solution provided by the book of Job to the problem of why God permits saints to suffer (see Vol. III, p. 494). Habakkuk sincerely loved the Lord and earnestly longed for the triumph of righteousness, but he could not understand why God seemingly permitted the apostasy and crime of Judah to go unchecked and unpunished (Hab. 1:1–4; cf. Jer. 12:1). God informs him that He has a plan for checking and punishing Judah for its evil ways, and that the Chaldeans are to be the instrument by which He will accomplish this plan (Hab. 1:5–11; see pp. 31, 32; cf. Isa. 10:5–16).
This explanation gives rise to another problem in Habakkuk’s mind—How can God use a nation more wicked than Judah to punish Judah? How can such a plan be reconciled with divine justice (ch. 1:12–17)?
Rashly, yet in all earnestness and innocence, Habakkuk demands an answer from God (ch. 2:1). Momentarily passing by the rashness of Habakkuk’s demand, God assures the prophet of the certainty of His purpose with respect to Judah (vs. 2, 3), and then points out to Habakkuk his need for humility and faith (v. 4). God proceeds to enumerate the sins of Babylon (ch. 2:5–19). He is fully aware of the treachery and wickedness of Babylon and assures Habakkuk that He, God, is still in control of the affairs of earth. Accordingly, all men, including Habakkuk, would do well to “keep silence” before Him (v. 20), that is, not question the wisdom of His ways.
Realizing that he has overstepped the bounds of propriety by presuming to challenge the divine wisdom and will, Habakkuk humbly repents. In the same breath, however, his earnest, devoted concern about Judah as the chosen instrument of God’s plan on earth (see pp. 26, 27) leads to the plea that divine justice will be seasoned with mercy (ch. 3:1, 2). This prayer is followed by a revelation of divine glory and power which shows God at work for the salvation of His faithful ones and for the overthrow of their foes (vs. 3–16). The book closes with Habakkuk’s affirmation of confidence in the wisdom and eventual success of the divine plan (vs. 17–19).
I. The Problem: Divine Forbearance With Judah and Babylon, 1:1–17.
A. Habakkuk’s complaint about wickedness in Judah, 1:1–4.
B. God’s plan for dealing with Judah, 1:5–11.
C. Habakkuk’s remonstrance against God’s plan, 1:12–17.
II. The Solution: Confidence in the Wisdom and Success of God’s Plan, 2:1–20.
A. Habakkuk demands an answer, 2:1.
B. God recommends confidence in the wisdom and success of His plan, 2:2–4,20.
C. God enumerates the national sins of Babylon, 2:5–19.
III. Habakkuk’s Response, 3:1–19.
A. Intercession for divine action and mercy, 3:1, 2.
B. A vision of judgment and deliverance, 3:3–16.
C. Habakkuk’s affirmation of faith in God, 3:17–19.