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HABAKKUK 1:1-3:19

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Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three

Table of Contents

  1. Habakkuk's questions 1:1-17
    1. A question about GOD's concern 1:1-11
      1. The question: Why doesn't GOD do something? 1:1-5
      2. The response: I raise up the Chaldeans 1:6-11
    2. A question about GOD's methods: Why does GOD use the unholy? 1:12-17
  2. GOD's answer 2:1-20
    1. The prophet waits 2:1
    2. The LORD responds 2:2-20
      1. The importance of the answer 2:2,3
      2. The central truth for believers 2:4
      3. The consequences of the truth for the unbelievers 2:5-20
        1. Misfortune of the ambitious 2:5-8
        2. Misfortune of the greedy 2:9-11
        3. Misfortune of the violent 2:12-14
        4. Misfortune of the unscrupulous 2:15-17
        5. Misfortune of the idolatrous 2:18-20
  3. Habakkuk's prayer 3:1-19
    1. The power of the LORD 3:1-16
      1. Called to mercy 3:1,2
      2. GOD's power over nature 3:3-11
      3. GOD's power over the nations 3:12-16
    2. The faith of the prophet 3:17-19
      1. Confidence, in spite of the circumstances 3:17-18
      2. Confidence in the power of GOD 3:19

(HBH) - Habakkuk is identified only as "the prophet". Haggai and Zechariah are similarly identified. The meaning of Habakkuk is not clear. It may be a foreign word. The book is called "an oracle", which may also be translated a burden as several other books or sections of books are called.

The only clue for a date comes in 1:6, which refers to "the Chaldeans" (KJV), another name for Babylonians. They were one of the two nations that overthrew Assyria and fell heir to its territories.Babylonia's share included Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt (if it could be conquered). Babylon defeated the last ASsyrian armies at Haran in northern Syria in 609 B.C. and beat back Egypt's challenge at Carchemish the same year.

Babylon established its authority over Palestine, including Judah, in 605 BC. It campaigned again in Palestine in 598 on its way to Egypt and finally destroyed Jerusalem in 587 BC. In both of the last two campaigns Judeans were taken into Egypt. The record of these years from a Judean viewpoint is found in II Kings 23-25, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Babylon continued Assyrian oppression of Judah with renewed vigor. Its ambitions to conquer Egypt made this necessary from its point of view. The Book of Habakkuk relates to the earlier part of the period of Babylon's conquests (around 605 B.C.). The Book of Zephaniah in more general terms portrays the climax of judgment on Jerusalem.

Habakkuk's position in the Minor Prophets, after Nahum and before Zephaniah, is appropriate. It deals with the disappointment of Judeans and Israelites, dispersed in exile, that the fall of Nineveh had not brought immediate relief and restoration for Judah and Israel. Instead, an extended period of almost three decades was a time of greater repression and final disaster. Another half-century under Babylon would follow before Persia would succeed Babylon and bring new hope for Israel and Jerusalem.The Book of Habakkuk deals with the frustrations of that period and teaches how one can maintain faith and hope in an extended period of adversity and trouble.

Hab. 1:1 The gravity and weight of Habakkuk's concern was a great burden for him. Other prophets, like Nahum and Zechariah also made reference to their prophecies as a "burden", hard to bear and difficult for the nation that had failed.

Hab. 1:1-17 Perplexed Prophet (HBH) The book begins with a cry to GOD: "How long?" This cry is found repeated in Scripture from Exodus 10:3 to many expressions in the Psalms. The opening speech recognizes chaotic violence all around (1:1-4). GOD called his people to recognize His hand at work in the situation (v.5). He had raised up the Babylonians, terrible as they were (1:6-11). The prophet recognized that this had been the divine purpose of judgment (1:12-13), for GOD could not put up with evil. GOD makes humans, who like fish and insects know no ruler (v.14); that is, they do as they please. In verses 15-17 humankind is described as fishermen who worship their nets because they make them rich. The Assyrian Empire did this, worshiping the violence that brought it booty, tribute, and power. Could this kind of idolatry go on forever (v.17)?

Hab. 1:2 Habakkuk formulates a series of questions about whether GOD will do something about those in his nation who are mistreating the weak and helpless.

Hab. 1:3 He imputes passivity to GOD for allowing these abuses to continue.

Hab. 1:4 judgment is twisted: When the unholy control the judicial system and annul just decisions.

Hab. 1:5,6 The LORD responds to the prophet's questions announcing that foreign invaders will seize power from the unholy among the Israelites.

Hab. 1:6 The Chaldeans, with their Babylonian soldiers, are a cruel nation, are hurrying to cross the land to attack their neighbors.

Hab. 1:7 Of themselves: They are the only ones responsible for their actions, since they don't owe their power to anybody.

Hab. 1:9 Terror goes before them (KJV-their faces shall sup as the east wind): The army moves forward without ceasing, seizing all that they find in their path.

Hab. 1:11 Later he will pass: Literally like a hurricane, which indicates that the invader will level the land, leaving nothing standing. His god is his strength. Hab. 1:12 GOD's solution to the problem that originally concerns the prophet (v.2) raises new questions. How can GOD utilize a cruel invading army to resolve the internal problems that affect his people?

Hab. 1:13 GOD's own nature doesn't allow him to see evil without punishing the guilty.

Hab. 1:15-17 With images of a fishery he describes the way in which the Babylonians gather the people and plunder of their conquests.

Hab. 1:16 Once again he alludes (see v.11) to their strength being their only god.

Hab. 1:16 WORSHIP OF WEAPONS (Manners & Customs of the Bible by James M. Freeman; pub. 1972 by Logos International)
"They sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag." These fishing implements are used figuratively to represent the weapons of war by means of which the Chaldeans designed to take the Jews. It was customary among some ancient nations to offer sacrifices to their weapons. The Scythians offered sacrifices to a sword which was set up as a symbol of Mars. Herodotus says: "Yearly sacrifices of cattle and of horses are made to it, and more victims are offered thus than to all the rest of their gods." - Book iv, chap. lxii. Grote, in speaking of the same people, says: "The Sword, in the literal sense of the word, was their chief god - an iron scimitar solemnly elevated upon a wide and lofty platform, which was supported on masses of faggots (burning wood) piled underneath - to whom sheep, horses, and a portion of their prisoners taken in war, were offered up in sacrifice." - History of Greece, part ii, chap. xvii. The Hindus, to this day, make offerings to their fishing tackle, to their weapons and to their tools of various kinds.

Hab. 2:1 See section 1 of "TRUTH IN ACTION" at the end of Habakkuk.

Hab. 2:1 Having concluded his interrogatory, Habakkuk remains on guard like a sentinel awaiting GOD's response.

Hab. 2:1-20 Faith Survives (HBH) The prophet took a stand to wait for GOD's reply to his complains (2:1). He did not have to wait long before he was commanded to write down his vision and publish plainly because it still had to be fulfilled (verses 2-3).

The most meaningful and important verse in Habakkuk follows (2:4). It describes the person who can survive such testing times. First the bad news: He who is puffed up will die. That is, those who are proud, arrogant, and filled with false pretenses cannot survive such testing. Then the good news: But the person in the right [relation to GOD and to his fellows] will live by simply being faithful. That is, people will live by faithfully doing every day what in faith they were accustomed to do. The formula for survival in hard times is faithful humility - standing under the load, as the New Testament puts it. That is why the righteous outlive the tyrants (v.5).

A series of five woes, or curses, follows against the tyrant and those who work for him. The first cursed anyone who collected wealth that did not belong to him, for someday those who were plundered would demand and get restitution (2:6-8). The second cursed those who built their houses or fortresses with evil gain to try to buy safety because even the stones and beams would rebel (2:9-11). The third cursed anyone who built a town through bloody oppression (2:12). Habakkuk 2:13-14 notes that GOD can make human striving to be without result. The knowledge of GOD - not the fame or emperors or tyrants - is destined to fill the earth at the end. The fourth woe condemned the violent, wrathful person, for the LORD would turn His back on him. This was specifically applied to a violent military campaign against Lebanon (2:15-17). The fifth and final woe cursed those who worshiped idols (2:18-19). In contrast the presence of GOD in His holy temple was real. All the earth was called to worshipful silence before Him (2:20). How many times have believers given such testimony to the living GOD while under the heel of arrogant, tyrannical rulers! Here the tyrant was Nebuchadnezzar. At other times it has been Antiochus-Epiphanes, or Nero, or Hitler, or Stalin. The statement holds true: through faithful patience the righteous survive. The tyrant inevitable falls.

Hab. 2:2,2 See section 1 of "TRUTH IN ACTION" at the end of Habakkuk.

Hab. 2:2 So that he who reads it runs: This message is clear and can be easily and rapidly read.

Hab. 2:4 See section 2 of "TRUTH IN ACTION" at the end of Habakkuk.

Hab. 2:4 will live, chayah; Strong #2421: To exist, preserve, flourish, enjoy life, live happily, breathe, be animated, recover health, live uninterruptedly. The basic idea is "to live and breathe". In the Hebrew thought,, respiration constitutes an evidence of the presence of life. Thus the Hebrews words for "to be living" or "animal" (chay) and "life" (chayyim) are derived from chayah. This verb appears around 250 times in the Old Testament. Many references suggest that "to live" is the result of doing what is right (Deut. 4:1; 30:19,20; Prov. 4:4; 9:6; Amos 5:4). This passage is one of the great plans of faith. Not only does it appear several times in the New Testament, but it gave place to the Reformation. It literally says, "The just in (or for) his faithfulness (firmness, consistency, belief, faith, solidity) will live!"

Hab. 2:4 The evil and arrogant Babylonians are contrasted with the just and faithful among GOD's people. Likewise, the transitory nature and unstable character of the one who seeks the meaning of life in himself is contrasted with the stability and confidence that the one who puts his life in GOD's hands possesses. (See the introduction to Habakkuk: "Content"; "Personal Application".) The Jewish Talmud affirms, "Moses gave Israel 613 commandments. David reduced them to 10, Isaiah to 2, but Habakkuk only to: "The just will live by their faith".

Hab. 2:5 The prophet now brings up the qualities that characterize the Babylonians and that will provoke their fall.

Hab. 2:6 Habakkuk pronounces a series of condemnations (verses 6,9,12,15,19) against the Babylonians which denounce the moral deficiencies that will lead them to destruction. How long does he have to accumulate pledge after pledge upon himself?: Babylon is like a usurer who requires exorbitant interest, but the oppressed will submit to it and will recover all that has been usurped.

Hab. 2:9 See section 4 of "TRUTH IN ACTION" at the end of Habakkuk.

Hab. 2:9 To put his nest on high: They thought they were out of reach of those who required of them for their aggressions..

Hab. 2:11 The rock will cry out from the wall: As happens in Scripture at times, inanimate objects denounce the cruelties to which they are witnesses.

Hab. 2:11 THE USE OF WOOD IN WALLS (Manners & Customs of the Bible by James M. Freeman; pub. 1972 by Logos International)
"For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it." Kaphis, "beam", is supposed by some to be a cross-beam for binding together the walls of a building. Jerome says it is "the beam which is placed in the middle of any building to hold the walls together, and is generally called...(a Greek word here) the Greeks." Henderson, however, objects to this rendering. He says: "That it was not the wood itself is evident from the following: from, or out of the wood." He prefers the interpretation given by the Mishna, and followed by some Jewish writers. According to these kaphis signifies a half brick. Rashi, the celebrated commentator and Talmudist, explains it to be "half a brick, which is usually laid between two layers of wood."

There are numerous evidences to show that ancient architects used wood to unite and bind walls, and it may have been some such custom to which the prophet refers in the text.

Hab. 2:12-13 See section 4 of "TRUTH IN ACTION" at the end of Habakkuk.

Hab. 2:13 It is of the LORD to demonstrate that gains obtained through illicit means turn out to be vain.

Hab. 2:14 GOD's actions to submit the unholy (v.13) are a proof of his sovereignty over all the earth.

Hab. 2:15 The humiliation and subjugation of other nations by the Babylonians is compared with a person who gets his neighbor drunk to take advantage of his weakness.

Hab. 2:16 What they have done to others (v.15) will happen to them; drink and you will be exposed.

Hab. 2:18 See section 3 of "TRUTH IN ACTION" at the end of Habakkuk.

Hab. 2:20 In comparison with powerless and lifeless idols (verses 18,19), Jehovah is present and prepared to act powerfully.

Hab. 2:20 SILENCE (Manners & Customs of the Bible by James M. Freeman; pub. 1972 by Logos International)
"But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." There may be a reference here to the profound and impressive silence which prevails in Oriental courts among the guards and officers who attend upon royal personages.

Hab. 3:1 Shigionoth: Musical notation that probably indicates that the song should be intoned with emotion and sensation of victory. This attitude contrasts with the sensation of catastrophe that permeates chapter 2.

Hab. 3:1-19 Psalm of Confidence (HBH) Chapter 3 is Habakkuk's prayer-psalm. The psalmist remembered reverently reports of GOD's great acts in the past and prayed for Him to bring redemption in this time: "In our wrath remember mercy" (v.2).

Habakkuk 3:3-15 is a poetic portrayal of GOD's salvation of His people from Egypt (Exod. 1-15). Here metaphors of GOD's actions drawn from many passages of Scripture are mixed together.

Habakkuk 3:16 recounts the psalmist's believing acceptance that GOD was active in his own moment in time as well as the high points in history. He would "wait patiently" for GOD's retribution against the tyrants. He recognized that his was a day for waiting, not for action.

The closing verses announced his joy in the LORD despite the deprivations he had to endure. GOD was his strength (verses 17-19).

Hab. 3:2 The prophet calls on GOD to act in favor of his people in the midst of the times, during the period of waiting before he puts an end to that intolerable situation (2:3).

Hab. 3:3 This verse reflects Moses' account about the coming of GOD to Israel in the desert (Deut. 33:2). Teman: Another name for Edom, located southeast of the Dead Sea. Paran alludes to the mountainous region situated to the west of Edom.

Hab. 3:5 GOD brings loss of life and fever upon the Chaldeans as punishment.

Hab. 3:7 Cushan: Probably an alternative denomination for Cush of Ethiopia. Midian is the land found on the Arabian side of the Red Sea. From the direction where both are situated the LORD will make his appearance (v.3).

Hab. 3:9 The oaths to the tribes were a sure word: GOD guarantees under oath that he will bring judgment against their enemies. See Deuteronomy 32:40-42.

Hab. 3:9 THE NAKED BOW (Manners & Customs of the Bible by James M. Freeman; pub. 1972 by Logos International)
"Thy bow was made quite naked." The bow was often kept in a case made of leather or of cloth. To make it "naked" meant to take it out of its case in order to use it. The expression signifies a preparation for war, and is of the same meaning as "uncovering the shield."

Hab. 3:13 Your anointed is in Hebrew a way of saying "Messiah". Here it represents the king of David's lineage anointed by GOD (see the introduction to Habakkuk: "Christ Revealed". Pierces the head of the house of the unholy: Alludes to the total destruction of the Babylonian dynasty.

Hab. 3:14 The enemies are like bandits who lay in wait to traitorously attack their victims.

Hab. 3:16-19 See section 2 of "TRUTH IN ACTION" at the end of Habakkuk.

Hab. 3:16 Although GOD's judgments are just and necessary, they leave a feeling of fear in those who witness them.

Hab. 3:17,18 The destructive consequences of the Babylonian invasion will be felt in all the land, but the prophet owes his joy to GOD.

Hab. 3:18 rejoice (KJV-joy), gil; Strong #1523: To rejoice, be happy or joyful. Gil holds the idea of "dancing or jumping for joy", since the word originally meant "to turn around rapidly". This reflects exactly the opposite of the theory that the biblical concept of joy represents only an internal feeling of quietude and well-being. GOD dances joyfully for Jerusalem and his people (Is. 65:19; Zeph. 3:17). The righteous Messiah rejoices in the divine salvation with such intensity that the psalmist can't find words to describe it (Psa. 21:1). In time, the redeemed children will rejoice for their King, worship him with dances, instruments and songs (Psa. 149:2,3). Although all was evil in the world that surrounded Habakkuk, the prophet leapt joyfully for his communion with Jehovah.

Hab. 3:19 Thanks to GOD's strength the prophet can move like the deer. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments: This is the same formula that is utilized to begin some psalms ("To the principal musician; upon Nehiloth"; Psa. 4; 6; 54; 55; 67; 76).

Theological and Ethical Significance (HBH) The Book of Habakkuk represents the kind of faith that became the norm for Judaism and later for Christianity. Israel no longer had the means to try to shape their own destiny. Under the empires they were the passive recipients of whatever good or evil the powerful chose to give them. But in faith they could believe that GOD, through those whom He allowed to rule, would provide what was necessary for His people to serve GOD. Believing and waiting became essential elements in their way of life. It should still be so.

Questions for Reflection (HBH):

  1. What was Habakkuk's solution to the disappointments and frustrations of life?
  2. What did Habakkuk say about the value of faithfulness and hope?
  3. According to Habakkuk, what did GOD have in store for the arrogant and the ruthlessly cruel?
  4. What did Habakkuk teach about GOD's faithfulness to His people throughout their history?

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Habakkuk: a Prophet's Questions and GOD's Answers ("Exploring the Old Testament" by C. E. Demaray, PhD, Donald S. Metz, D.R.E. and Maude A. Stuneck, PhD; edited by W. T. Purkiser, PhD; published 1967 by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City)
Habakkuk is sometimes known as the philosopher-prophet, since his prophecy is largely in the form of an inquiry made by the prophet concerning the reasons for the distressing conditions discipline those who have transgressed less flagrantly. The reply which prevailed at Jerusalem during the reign of Jehoiakim (608-597 B.C.) The book opens with a dialogue between the prophet and Jehovah (1:1-2:4), then records certain woes pronounced against the Babylonians for their cruelty and oppression (2:5-20), and closes with a beautiful poem of confidence that GOD will deliver His people (chapter 3).

  1. The Dialogue. In the opening dialogue Habakkuk makes two complaints to the LORD, and GOD makes an answer to each complaint. In the first complaint (1:1-4) the prophet laments the increasing iniquity of his people. In reply (1:5-11) GOD promises to punish their sin by raising up the Chaldeans (that is, the Babylonians) against them. In the second complain (1:12-17) Habakkuk questions the use of a more wicked people to do this (2:1-4) is that the justification of GOD's action will be seen as events develop. All wickedness shall be judged and punished. Although divine wrath may seem to tarry, yet at the appointed time it will come.

  2. The Conclusion. The five woes, directed perhaps primarily against the Babylonians, but made applicable to the people of Judah, are "to him that increaseth that which is not his" (2:6), "to him that coveteth" (2:9), "to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity" (2:12), to "him that giveth his neighbour drink" to overcome him (2:15), and to all idolators (2:19). In contrast we have the principle of righteous conduct enunciated in verse 5: "The just shall live by his faith."

  3. The Psalm of Faith. Chapter three is an apocalyptic psalm, portraying the coming of GOD in judgment, and prefaced by a prayer for a revival of righteousness in the midst of the years of worldliness and sin (3:2). The final verses of the prophecy are among the finest expressions of faith to be found in the Bible:

    "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the GOD of my salvation. The LORD GOD is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places (3:17-19).