In this book we see how faith trusts in the LORD in spite of everything. Habakkuk first complains in Habakkuk 1 about the iniquity that surrounds him in Judah. He is indignant about the sins of the people. As a reaction to this, God shows him that He sends the Chaldeans – or: the Babylonians – as a disciplinary rod to His people because of their sins. Habakkuk’s reaction to this shows the love he has for God’s people, because he complains to God about this oppressor that treats his beloved people so cruelly.
In Habakkuk 2 comes the response of God to Habakkuk’s complaint. He says that He knows the ungodliness of the Chaldeans and will judge them for it. He will certainly let that judgment come, but not directly. For that time of waiting He tells the believer, the righteous, how he can endure that time and that is by his faith: the righteous will live by his faith.
At the end of the book, in Habakkuk 3, the prophet rises above all circumstances. He trusts in God Himself and rejoices in Him, no matter what may happen and even though there is no blessing yet to be seen. This is where a living faith, that is a living trust in God, brings the believer. Thus, the believer goes from fear to trust and becomes instead of being a believer full of worries and questions to God, a worshipper of God.
Of the personal history of Habakkuk nothing is known. His name means ‘embrace’. He embraces his people, takes them in his arms to comfort them as a mother comforts a crying child. He assures the people that everything is in God’s hands and that He is capable of turning everything for the better. He also embraces God, in the sense that he clings to God with all the questions he has about what God is doing. We see this in the dialogues he has with God. His questions and feelings of despair do not cause him to say goodbye to God, but to attach himself even more intimately to God. That may also be the effect with us. We are allowed to go to Him with all the questions we have.
The time in which Habakkuk prophesies has to do with the announcement of the coming of the Chaldeans because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people. That coming is near because it will take place in his days (Hab 1:5). So it concerns the generation living before the years 606-586 BC. This is the time in which Jeremiah and Ezekiel also prophesied.
It is a time of crisis. This makes Habakkuk’s prophecy topical for us because we too live in days that are rushing towards the great crisis of the end times. We can learn from Habakkuk how to look at the development of evil and how we can talk about it with God.
The iniquities of God’s people unleash a holy wrath and a great sorrow in this man of God. But while his heart is tormented by their evil behavior, at the same time he feels how miserable they are and wants to make their cause his own. He connects with them in their misery. That makes Habakkuk a prophet who resembles Jeremiah more than any other prophet. He lives more personally in the scenes he describes than the other prophets. He feels or experiences everything in the way as Jeremiah did. Not only does he speak as a prophet, but he also lives as a prophet.
This last aspect also makes his book different from that of the other prophets, because his book is a display of the experiences of his soul. Habakkuk is unique among the prophets, because he does not so much speak to the people in the name of God, but more to God about the people. His speaking to God shows that he struggles with Him about His actions with people. He wants to know how God works and why He does it. He doesn’t rest until he knows God’s thoughts about it.
Knowledge of God’s thoughts is only gained in personal faith exercises. What others have learned and written down in faith exercises can help us, but we will never learn the truth of God without personal exercises. If we have average intelligence, we can learn many truths by heart, but that is not the same as knowing God’s thoughts. If we know many truths only intellectually, the result is “high truth, low practice”.
The form of the book is a two-way conversation, a dialogue. As far as the contents of the dialogue is concerned, a comparison can be made with Jonah and with Job. Jonah and Job also had dialogues with God about His way of acting, which was incomprehensible to them.
Habakkuk is the prophet of faith. The key verse of his prophecy is ‘live by faith’ (Hab 2:4). The main theme is the oppression and torment that is the part of the God-fearing on the one side and the prosperity of the wicked on the other. This subject has often caused great wrestling among believers (cf. Psa 73:1-17).
The New Testament quotes a few times from this book.
1.Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles, quotes the key verse of this book (Hab 2:4) three times in his letters to illustrate the fundamental truth of justification by faith (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38).
2. In the book of Acts Paul quotes another verse of Habakkuk in a speech (Acts 13:40-41; Hab 1:5).
3. In the letter to the Philippians there is a clear reference to the practice of faith (Phil 4:4,10-19; Hab 3:17-18).
We will elaborate on this in the discussion of the verses quoted.
Division of the book
1. Introduction (Habakkuk 1:1)
2. First complaint of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:2-4)
3. God’s answer to the first complaint (Habakkuk 1:5-11)
4. Second complaint of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:12-2:1)
5. God’s answer to the second complaint (Habakkuk 2:2-20)
a. Introduction (Habakkuk 2:2-3)
b. Indictment (Habakkuk 2:4-5)
c. Judgment (Habakkuk 2:6-20)
6. The prayer of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:1-19)
a. Introduction (Habakkuk 3:1)
b. Prayer (Habakkuk 3:2)
c. Theophany or appearance of God (Habakkuk 3:3-15)
d. Habakkuk’s answer (Habakkuk 3:16-19a)
e. Postscript (Habakkuk 3:19b)