Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
Book: Habakkuk
Chapters: 1 · 2 · 3 ·

The subject of this Prophecy is the Destruction of Judea and
Jerusalem for the sins of the people, and the consolation of the
Faithful under national calamities.

Introduction

Habakkuk is one of the many books of the Bible, although its place within the Bible is varied, depending on which Bible you happen to pick up.

In the Tanakh, it's the eighth of the twelve Minor Prophets.
In the Roman Catholic Old Testament, it's the fourteenth of the prophetical books.
In the Protestant Old Testament, it's the thirteenth of the prophetical books.

Wherever you find it, congratulations! Habakkuk is a short book, only three Bible chapters long, and therefore difficult to find without referring to the contents page.

Like the other prophets of his era, Habakkuk concerns himself with the sinfulness of his people, Judah, and the threat of domination by the latest rising superpower (in this case, Babylon). His dialogue with God is his way of making sense of what is happening around him, and of reassuring and edifying his fellow Jews.

Context

Habakkuk lived and prophesised in Judah at some point between the fall of Nineveh (612 B.C.) and the final Babylonian invasion of Judah (588 B.C.) - probably sooner rather than later, since reference is made to the rising power of the Babylonians. Josiah, three of his sons (Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim and Zedekiah) and one of his grandsons (Jehoiachin) were kings of Judah during this tumultuous period.

Notable events concerning Judah that took place during this period:

  • 612 B.C.: Nineveh, Assyria's capital, falls to Babylonia.
  • 609 B.C.: King Josiah dies in battle against Neco, king of Egypt, who is on his way north through Judah to assist the failing Assyrians still holding out against the Babylonians; Jehoahaz, Josiah's fourth oldest son, becomes king for three months, before Neco returns and takes him hostage, installing Jehoiakim, Josiah's second oldest son, as king; For the next four years, Egypt dominates Judah.
  • 605 B.C.: Babylon defeats Assyria and Egypt at the battle of Carchemish; Nebuchadnezzar becomes king of Babylon; Nebuchadnezzar invades and occupies Judah; Daniel is taken captive to Babylon.
  • 603 B.C.: Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about a statue, and is elevated to a high position of authority in Babylon.
  • 602 B.C.: Jehoiakim rebels against Nebuchadnezzar.
  • 598 B.C.: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego miraculously survive the blazing furnace.
  • 597 B.C.: Nebuchadnezzar takes Jehoiakim hostage to Babylon, and Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim's son, becomes king; Like his uncle, however, Jehoiachin only rules for three months, after which Nebuchadnezzar takes him hostage to Babylon; Ezekiel is taken captive to Babylon; Nebuchadnezzar installs Zedekiah, Josiah's third oldest son, as king of Judah.
  • 593 B.C.: Ezekiel begins his prophetic ministry.
  • 588 B.C.: Zedekiah rebels against Nebuchadnezzar; Nebuchadnezzar invades Judah and lays siege to Jerusalem (which will fall in 586 B.C.)

Habakkuk's prophetic contemporaries were Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Nahum and Zephaniah.
Jeremiah operated from before the fall of Nineveh to after the fall of Judah.
Nahum's ministry occurred prior to the fall of Nineveh.
Zephaniah's ministry occurred at about the same time as Habakkuk's.
Ezekiel's ministry (chapters 1-25) commenced after his exile to Babylon.

Etymology

Habakkuk is an unusual name to modern ears. The English transliteration of the original Hebrew is Châbaqqûwq (except the accent over the "a" is supposed to be the other way around). In his time, Habakkuk's friends would have got his attention by pronouncing his name khab-ak-kook (with an emphasis on the final syllable).

The name means embrace, and is a reduplication of the verb to clasp. So perhaps the idea behind the name is of being firmly embraced. I can't see any significance in this to the book.

Summary

The book of Habakkuk proceeds in a very logical style: Habakkuk asks God a question, gets a response, asks a follow-up question, gets a response to that, then satisfied, praises God.

Habakkuk's first question

Following a brief introduction, Habakkuk questions God's apparently passive policies concerning Judah's sinfulness.

How long, O Yahweh, must I call for help? But you do not listen!

God's response

God then responds by revealing that he is in the process of raising up the Babylonians to be his tools for dealing out judgment on the earth.

I am raising up the Babylonians to be a new power on the world scene. They are a cruel and violent nation who will march across the world and conquer it.

Habakkuk's second question

Habakkuk says, "That sounds fair enough – Judah has it coming," but then asks whether it's really fair that the Babylonians should get away with such aggressive behaviour, since the people of Judah are God's chosen people.

O Yahweh our Rock, you have decreed the rise of these Babylonians to punish and correct us for our terrible sins. You are perfectly just in this. But will you, who cannot allow sin in any form, stand idly by while they swallow us up? Should you be silent while the wicked destroy people who are more righteous than they?

God's response

God then reveals a vision to Habakkuk (the content of which we do not see until the final chapter), in which he shows Habakkuk how he will subsequently punish the Babylonians, in his own time, for their sinfulness.

But these things I plan won't happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.

He then expounds on the consequences of sin.

How foolish to trust in something made by your own hands!
Has not Yahweh Almighty promised that the wealth of nations will turn to ashes? They work so hard, but all in vain! For the time will come when all the earth will be filled, as the waters fill the sea, with an awareness of the glory of Yahweh.

Habakkuk's prayer

The book closes with a prayer which was sung by Habakkuk in response to the vision. In his prayer, Habakkuk describes the vision God showed him, and his physical reaction to it.

I trembled inside when I heard all this; my lips quivered with fear. My legs gave way beneath me, and I shook in terror.

He closes his prayer by declaring that even if everything seems hopeless, he will never stop trusting God.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in Yahweh! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. Yahweh Adonai is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.

Postscript

A postscript, a brief technical note to the choir director, indicates that Habakkuk's prayer was subsequently used for worship purposes.

Incidental New Testament relevance

Habakkuk 2:4 (the righteous will live by their faith) is quoted in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38, and is a foundational doctrine of Christianity.

My impressions

I really liked Habakkuk.

  • Firstly, because it was short and to the point.
  • Secondly, its logical progression.
  • Thirdly, that Habakkuk asked a difficult question of God – I like that the Bible shows that it's okay to question God when the events we perceive don't seem to match up to the God we believe we know.
  • Fourthly, that even when God gives Habakkuk a reply, Habakkuk then challenges him further – he wants more than a simple answer: he wants a detailed explanation.
  • Fifthly, the imagery. It's a very graphic book, and I found it easy to conceptualise the drama in my mind's eye.

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