Habakkuk’s name means “ardent embrace.” Although his name does not define his message, in his closing statement he lives up to his name when he confesses his unconditional faith in the Lord, totally embracing God and His Word (3:16-17). Virtually nothing is known about the prophet although the postscript “To the chief singer on my stringed instruments” (3:19) may connect him to the rituals of the temple and therefore to the priestly office. Although an obscure character, few prophets lay bare their personal struggles as clearly as Habakkuk. So notwithstanding the lack of information about him, we know his heart pretty well. The apocryphal Bel and the Dragon refers to a Habakkuk of the tribe of Levi who was carried by an angel from Judea to Babylon to minister to Daniel in the lions’ den. As interesting as this may be, it is merely fiction with no credibility.
The absence of any explicit data requires dating the book by implicit evidence, the most significant being the imminence of the Babylonian invasion (1:6). Although some of the sins of Judah mentioned in Habakkuk point to the reign of Manasseh (686-640 BC), who bore great responsibility for Judah’s guilt, Babylon was not at that time a world power. More likely, Habakkuk preached during the reign of Jehoiakim (609-597 BC), whose wickedness and foolishness led Judah to destruction (2 Kings 23:34; Jer. 22:17). This corresponds to Babylon’s rise to world power under the leadership of Nabopolassar (626-605 BC) and his part in overthrowing Nineveh (612 BC). After victory at the battle of Carchemish (605 BC), Nebuchadnezzar became the emperor of the neo-Babylonian Empire and initiated the first stage of Judah’s exile. Since Habakkuk is predicting the Babylonian exile, his message would have to be before 605 BC. Conservatives, therefore, tend to date Habakkuk to the eve of the first Babylonian invasion, 607/606 BC.
Living by faith (2:4 is the key verse that declares the theme: “the just shall live by his faith”).
To prove the sensibility of trusting God unconditionally. Habakkuk could well be designated a theodicy, a defense of divine justice. Habakkuk questioned God’s justice, and God revealed that He would bring justice. Faith accepts what it cannot affirm by mere facts of observation.
The Contribution of Habakkuk to Redemptive Revelation
Whereas other prophets record their inspired sermons, Habakkuk records dialogues between himself and God (prayers and answers) and then his song of praise and thanksgiving for what God had taught him about faith. Habakkuk, with bold honesty, admits his personal struggles over the conflict and incongruity between what he believed and what he saw. Things were happening in the nation that to him made no sense, given what he believed about God. Judah was guilty of terrible sin seemingly without consequence; it appeared that the law was powerless and wickedness was unchecked (1:4).
When God assured him that justice was coming and that He was going to use the Babylonians to chastise Judah, Habakkuk’s soul struggle intensified. He offered no defense for Judah but could not understand how or why God who was so pure and holy could or would use a nation whose wickedness and idolatry exceeded even sinful Judah’s. God was doing something Habakkuk neither understood nor liked; it created a tension between creed and experience, between faith and sight. God graciously dealt with Habakkuk, declaring in a remarkably far-reaching statement, “the just shall live by his faith” (2:4). That declaration not only solved Habakkuk’s problem, it became a proposition intimately associated with the explanation and advance of redemption as revealed in the gospel. Paul’s use of this text in Rom. 1:17 and Gal. 3:11 is a crucial component in his exposition of saving and justifying grace in Jesus Christ. Similarly, Heb. 10:37-38 links the verse to persevering faith in Jesus Christ. Significantly, the verse was the battle cry of the Reformation. If 2:4 were the only sentence in Habakkuk, the contribution to redemptive revelation and history would be outstanding. But it’s not the only contribution.
Although disputed, Hab. 3:13 most likely refers directly to Christ—the word translated “anointed” is Messiah. The context is a synopsis of redemptive history illustrating God’s defeat of those hostile to His purpose of saving His people. Significantly, the salvation of His people is linked to the salvation or deliverance of His Messiah and the wounding of “the head out of the house of the wicked.” The image is reminiscent of Gen. 3:15 that encapsulates the whole course of redemption’s plan consummating in the fatal blow to the head of the serpent. Throughout history, the seed of the serpent attempted to thwart the coming of Christ, but over and again God preserved both the line leading to Christ and Christ Himself. Although the way God counters the hostility is sometimes beyond our understanding, Habakkuk teaches us to walk by faith and not by sight.
- The Problems for Faith (1:1-2:20)
- The Problem regarding Sin (1:1-11)
- The Prophet’s Prayer (1:2-4)
- The Lord’s Answer (1:5-11)
- The Problem regarding God’s Nature (1:12-2:20)
- The Prophet’s Prayer (1:12-17)
- The Lord’s Answer (2:1-4)
- The Lord’s Gracious Digression (2:5-20)
- The Problem regarding Sin (1:1-11)
- The Praise of Faith (3:1-19)
- The Petition of Praise (3:1-2)
- The Components of Praise (3:3-15)
- God’s Glory (3:3-4)
- God’s Power
- The Peace in Praise (3:16-19)
Extracted from: Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible Notes(Beeke, Joel R. 2015. Reformation Heritage Books).
See Today’s Bible Reading and Bible Study challenges below, which include the Book of Psalms and build on this overview with a chapter-by-chapter Bible reading plan and Bible study insights.