Righteous men see the immorality, injustice, and oppression among them, and often lament such conditions before God. Habakkuk learned that God’s answers to such sins are not necessarily the answers the people of God, righteous or unrighteous, want to hear.
Habakkuk is the thirty-fifth book in most English Bibles; in the Hebrew Bible it is part of the Nevi’im, the Prophets; in the Greek Septuagint Habakkuk is the eighth of the Duodecim (Latinized; Dodeka in Greek), “the Twelve.” Very little is known about Habakkuk; the book bearing his name provides no biographical information beyond the fact he is reckoned a prophet and the Chaldeans would invade Judah in his lifetime (586 BCE; Habakkuk 1:5-11). Habakkuk makes an appearance in the apocryphal Bel and the Dragon, part of the Greek additions to Daniel; he is summoned to bring food to Daniel in Babylon despite being in Judah and is divinely transported to do so (Daniel 14:33-39). Habakkuk chronicles the burden and prayer-psalm of the prophet Habakkuk regarding Judah and the imminent Chaldean Babylonian invasion.
Habakkuk begins with his petition to YHWH, crying for help and salvation from the wicked, for iniquity proliferated and justice was perverted in the land (Habakkuk 1:1-4). YHWH responded to Habakkuk, warning him that He was about to do something that would cause the ears of all who heard it to tingle, something unimaginable: YHWH would raise up the Chaldeans to invade the land, and He described the Chaldean forces in terrifying images (Habakkuk 1:5-11). Habakkuk responded with confidence that YHWH will not entirely destroy His people while recognizing the Chaldeans as a means of judgment upon Israel (Habakkuk 1:12). YHWH is of purer eyes than to see wrong; why do the wicked swallow up the righteous (Habakkuk 1:13)? YHWH made man as the fish of the sea, caught by others who then offer sacrifices to the net; why will nations be killed forever (Habakkuk 1:14-17)?
Habakkuk declared that he would stand at the watch post to hear YHWH’s answer to his complaint (Habakkuk 2:1). YHWH responded, exhorting Habakkuk to write down the vision, for it will come: the proud will be humbled, wine makes arrogant, but the righteous will live by their faith (Habakkuk 2:2-4). By means of these three themes YHWH denounced the wicked and the Chaldeans: they have taken loans they will not be able to repay, their debtors will come upon them, their iniquities will return upon their heads and they will suffer what they did to others (Habakkuk 2:5-11); woe is pronounced upon those who build cities on blood and iniquity, for YHWH has decreed that they labor for nothing, and the earth will be made full of the knowledge of YHWH (Habakkuk 2:12-14). Woe is pronounced on those who make their neighbors drunk so as to see their shame; true in fact but also likely a metaphor for the Chaldeans who will be overwhelmed by violence s they did unto Lebanon (Habakkuk 2:15-17). The folly of idolatry is exposed; meanwhile YHWH is in His temple, and the nations should keep silence before Him (Habakkuk 2:18-20).
Habakkuk concludes with a prayer set in the form of a psalm (Habakkuk 3:1-19). Habakkuk has heard reports of YHWH and His work; he appropriately fears; he wanted YHWH to make it known to later generations (Habakkuk 3:1-2). YHWH is said to come down from eastern mountains, with splendor, majesty, power, and destruction; He made His measurements, and the desert people quaked in fear (Habakkuk 3:3-7). The earth experienced the fury of YHWH, but His anger is against the nations and the wicked so as to lead to the salvation of His Anointed and His people (Habakkuk 3:8-15). Habakkuk experienced great physical disturbance but waited for the day of trouble for Chaldea; he will rejoice in YHWH even if all food sources are lost; God is his salvation and strength (Habakkuk 3:16-20).
Habakkuk looked to YHWH for salvation from the wicked and came to recognize YHWH as the God of his salvation (Habakkuk 1:2, 3:18). Judgment would come against the wicked from a terrible and hostile nation, and then judgment would come against that nation. Is this the way Habakkuk would like for things to take place? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it is the way YHWH chose, and Habakkuk knew well that it was best to continue to be righteous and to live by his faith. So it has continued to be among the people of God: we may observe injustice and wickedness around us and want to see God render judgment, but we must be careful, because God’s judgments are very tumultuous affairs. We do best to live by our faith and seek righteousness, entrusting ourselves to God no matter what (cf. Romans 1:17). May God be our salvation and strength no matter our circumstances!
Ethan R. Longhenry