is a book about
in which God is
Background of Habakkuk
Habakkuk, like Jonah, is a personal narrative; his struggle, though, is internal, and so the story takes the form of a conversation between God and the prophet. Unlike Jonah, Habakkuk grows in his faith in God through the course of the book. The prophet begins by questioning God (1:2), and ends in inexplicable joy and triumphant faith (3:17-19). “The story of Habakkuk is that of a movement from the experience of doubt and questioning, to that of certainty and praise” (Morgan1).
The date of Habakkuk must precede Babylon’s invasion of Jerusalem (612BC), since this is yet future during the book. This means he was probably a near-contemporary of Jeremiah and Zephaniah.
Habakkuk’s Question: How Long, God?
Several Bible books deal with faith and doubt, but the content of Habakkuk’s doubt is unique: God’s justice. “Justice never goes forth2” (1:4). Most prophets view God’s justice as perfect and forthcoming, however distant. (Compare, for example, Nahum.) Even though Habakkuk is a prophet, he lacks understanding about God’s plan for his time. Specifically, he cries out about injustice and violence in Judah (1:2-4). Then, God answers that he will send the Chaldeans as a chastisement against Judah (1:5-11), but Habakkuk finds this even more appalling. He again questions God about using the wicked Chaldeans against wicked (but chosen) Israel (1:12-17). It does not fit in with what he thought he knew about God. After all these questions, the major shift in the book comes when Habakkuk determines to wait for a clear answer from God to resolve his inward debate.
Habakkuk’s Watch: Waiting on God
The solution for Habakkuk is to wait; “I will take my stand at my watchpost … and look out to see what he will say to me” (2:1). God’s response (2:2-20) is summarized in one shining assurance: “the righteous shall live by his faith.” (2:4) The righteous will live; that is, they have eternal life, but the proud will not. They will live by faith; trust in God is what enables them to receive eternal life. Despite Habakkuk’s doubt, God leads him to this assurance of God’s future justice, which will outlast any injustice in his day. God has never lied, and the vision that he has given
The rest of this oracle speaks of coming judgment against idol worshippers. God reassures Habakkuk that, even though he will use Babylon (or Chaldea) against Judah, he will also hold Babylon to account. Although “destruction and violence” are present realities (1:3), there is a time coming when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (2:14). A. W. Tozer says it this way: “the resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.3”
The oracle ends with yet another encouragement to wait and trust: “But the LORDis in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (2:20). A modern re-statement of this is “God’s still on his throne.” Habakkuk had to recognize and trust the government of God not in history, but in his own lifetime.
Habakkuk’s Worship: “Yet I Will Rejoice”
With the prophet’s doubt clearly resolved, the third chapter is a song of Habakkuk’s faith. Habakkuk recites, in song, a past victory that God brought for Israel as a basis for faith in future victory: “I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD… In the midst of the years revive it” (3:2). The specifics of the song—plague (v. 5), water miracles (v. 15), and geographical details—all point to the Exodus and the birth of Israel as the story which Habakkuk is celebrating in psalm. Likewise God’s unfulfilled promises are known to be certain by his perfect record; the past gives us faith for the future.
The conclusion of the book is exultant praise, rising “to heights of faith which even David did not attain with all his music4.” Job refuses to curse God; but Habakkuk declares boldly that he will rejoice in the Lord even if all his livelihood and material possessions are taken away. This is the highest faith in the lowest depth. Chambers5points out, “faith is trust in a God Whose ways I do not know, but Whose character I do know.”
Andrew Murray has a devotional book called Waiting on God, emphasizing the importance of waiting in all aspects of Christian life.
If you are doubting God’s work in the world or your life, Christian biographies such as Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot can restore a right view of God’s timing and his triumphant use of tragedy.
Compare themes with: Job, Lamentations.
Contemporaries include: Jeremiah, Zephaniah.
1 Morgan, G. Campbell. Living Messages. “Habakkuk.”
2 All Scriptures quoted are ESV.
3 Tozer, A. W. Born After Midnight.
4 Parker, Joseph. The People’s Bible, vol. 17: Hosea to Malachi. p. 332.
5 Chambers, Oswald. Shade of His Hand.