The Book of Habakkuk is the eighth book of the 12 minor prophets of the Hebrew Bible. It is attributed to the prophet Habakkuk, and was probably composed in the late 7th century BC. A copy of chapters 1 and 2 (of 3) is included in the Habakkuk Commentary, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Chapters 1-2 are a dialog between Yahweh and the prophet. The central message, that "the just shall live by his faith" (2:4), plays an important rule in Christian thought. It is used in Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38 as the starting point of the concept of faith. Chapter 3 may be an independent addition, now recognized as a liturgical piece, but was possibly written by the same author as chapters 1 and 2.
Habakkuk identifies himself as a prophet in the opening verse. Due to the liturgical nature of the book of Habakkuk, there have been some scholars who think that the author may have been a temple prophet. Temple prophets are described in 1 Chronicles 25:1 as using lyres, harps and cymbals. Some feel that this is echoed in Habakkuk 3:19b, and that Habakkuk may have been a Levite and singer in the Temple.
There is no biographical information on the prophet Habakkuk; in fact less is known about him than any other writer of the Bible. The only canonical information we have comes from the book that is named for him. His name comes either from the Hebrew word חבק (khavak) meaning "embrace" or else from an Akkadian word hambakuku for a kind of plant.
Although his name does not appear in any other part of the Jewish Bible, Rabbinic tradition holds Habakkuk to be the Shunammite woman's son, who was restored to life by Elisha in 2 Kings 4:16. The prophet Habakkuk is also mentioned in the tale of Bel and the Dragon, part of the deuterocanonical additions to Daniel in a late section of that book. In the superscription of the Old Greek version, Habakkuk is called the son of Joshua of the tribe of Levi. In this book Habakkuk is lifted by an angel to Babylon to provide Daniel with some food while he is in the lion's den.
It is unknown when Habakkuk lived and preached, but the reference to the rise and advance of the Chaldeans in 1:6-11 places him in the middle to last quarter of the 7th century BC. One possible period might be during the reign of Jehoiakim, from 609-598 BC. The reasoning for this date is that during his reign that the Babylonians were growing in power. The Babylonians marched against Jerusalem in 598. Jehoiakim died while the Babylonians were marching towards Jerusalem and Jehoiakim's 8 year old son, Jehoiachin assumed the throne. Upon the Babylonians' arrival, Jehoiachin and advisors surrendered Jerusalem after a short time. With the transition of rulers and the age/inexperience of Jehoiachin, they were not able to stand against Chaldean forces. There is a sense of an intimate knowledge of the Babylonian brutality in 1:12-17.
The book consists of three chapters and the book is neatly divided into three different genres:
A breakdown of the book's structure looks this way:
I. Title (1:1)
II. The Problem of Unpunished wickedness (1:2 – 4)
III. God's first response (1:5 – 11)
IV. The problem of excessive punishment (1:12 – 17)
V. Awaiting an Answer (2:1)
VI. God’s second response (2:2 – 20)
Habakkuk is unique among the prophets in that he openly questions the wisdom of God. In the first part of the first chapter, the Prophet sees the injustice among his people and asks why God does not take action. "1:2 Yahweh, how long will I cry, and you will not hear? I cry out to you “Violence!” and will you not save?" - World English Bible.
In the middle part of Chapter 1, God explains that he will send the Chaldeans to punish his people. 1:5 “Look among the nations, watch, and wonder marvelously; for I am working a work in your days, which you will not believe though it is told you. 1:6 For, behold, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, that march through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs. (World English Bible)
One of the "Eighteen Emendations to the Hebrew Scriptures" appears at 1:12. (Actually there were more than eighteen.) According to the professional Jewish scribes, the Sopherim, the text of 1:12 was changed from "You [God] do not die" to "We shall not die." The Sopherim considered it disrespectful of God to say "Thou diest not."
In the final part of the first chapter, the prophet expresses shock at God's choice of instrument for judgment. 1:13 You who have purer eyes than to see evil, and who cannot look on perversity, why do you tolerate those who deal treacherously, and keep silent when the wicked swallows up the man who is more righteous than he, (World English Bible )
In Chapter 2, he awaits God's response to his challenge. God explains that He will also judge the Chaldeans, and much more harshly. 2:8 Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples will plunder you, because of men’s blood, and for the violence done to the land, to the city and to all who dwell in it. 2:9 Woe to him who gets an evil gain for his house, (World English Bible )
Finally, in Chapter 3, Habakkuk expresses his ultimate faith in God, even if he doesn't fully understand. 3:17 For though the fig tree doesn’t flourish, nor fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive fails, the fields yield no food; the flocks are cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls: 3:18 yet I will rejoice in Yahweh. I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! (World English Bible )
Because of the final chapter of his book, which is a poetic praise of God, it has been assumed that Habakkuk was likely a member of the Levitical choir in the Temple. Contemporary scholars point out, however, that this chapter is missing from the Dead Sea Scrolls and has some similarities with texts found in the Book of Daniel. They therefore suggest that it is a later interpolation which influenced the authors of Daniel, and that it is impossible to make the assumption of Habakkuk's background based on it.
The second half of Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted by some of the earliest Christian writers. Although this passage is only three words in the original Hebrew, Paul the Apostle quotes this verse twice in his epistles, in Romans 1:17 and again in Galatians 3:11. In doing so, Paul extends Habakkuk's original concept of righteous living at the present time into a future life. The same verse is quoted in Hebrews 10:37-38, where Habakkuk's vision is tied to Christ and used to comfort the church during a period of persecution.
Chapter 3 may be an independent addition, according to some scholars, now recognized as a liturgical piece. The first two chapters are regarded by many as the work of a cult prophet attached to the Jerusalem Temple, possibly also the author of chapter 3.