Habakkuk’s lifetime and time of ministry are estimated from internal material, especially Habakkuk 1:6. It is clearly during that period of the waning of Assyrian strength and the rapid rise of Babylonian power. Some place the book as early as 626 BC (when Nabopolasser declared independence from Assyria) or 614 BC (the Babylonian alliance with the Medes, setting the stage for their successful overthrow of Nineveh), and thus date this during the reign of Josiah of Judah. Others prefer to assign it to the time period at the end of Josiah’s rule or during that of Jehoiakim, say 610 BC to 597 BC at the latest. It seems safest to place it shortly before Carchemish (605 BC), when Nabopolasser and Nebuchadnezzar defeated Egypt and demonstrated their superiority over the entire Near East, including Judah.1The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.
See also the Chronology of the Old Testament Kings, the Chronology of the Prophets, and the Chronology of Latter Prophets and Intertestamental Period.
The meaning of the name Habakkuk in Hebrew is uncertain, with some favoring the idea of “one who embraces” and some deriving it from an Assyrian word for an unidentified garden plant. We also know very little about the man himself. Because of the heading and musical notations for chapter three some say he was a Levite, but this is unproven. In the Apocryphal Bel and the Dragon he served (fed) Daniel who was (again) in a lion’s den, but that is mythical material.
The message and prophetic style are unusual, almost unique, among the prophets. This is not given as an oracle addressed to God’s people but reveals a dialogue between the prophet and the Lord – similar to revelations channeled through Daniel. It is fair to say that Habakkuk represents the godly in Israel and asks questions that were on the minds of many, and the answers he receives are intended for the wider audience. This book also has what may be called a “wisdom tone” and like much wisdom literature deals with a topic, in this case divine justice, or theodicy (the justification of God’s ways with humanity). In many ways the book is parallel to the book of Job, but here focuses on God’s dealings with nations rather than with individual people. The third chapter, with its designation for public and liturgical use, is also unique among prophetic works.
God’s chosen people were disobedient to him. They had turned away from him and begun to worship idols. In Habakkuk, God promises that they will be punished for their unbelief, but Habakkuk faithfully prays for deliverance from the nations that threaten them (Hab 3:1-2,13,6-19). God answered Habakkuk’s prayer and later brought a remnant back to the land of Israel. Jesus would later come from that remnant.
Throughout this prophecy of judgment, Habakkuk displays the truth of his own words, that “the righteous will live by faith” (Hab 2:4). This beautiful truth is used by Paul and the writer to the Hebrews to show that faith in Jesus imputes the righteousness he won for us by his life and death (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:37-38).
- Habakkuk 2:4
- Habakkuk 2:18-19
- Habakkuk 2:20
- Habakkuk 3:2
- Habakkuk 3:17-19
A two-part outline can be helpful, as the following samples show:
- Habakkuk Struggles with God’s Purposes (Hab 1-2)
- Habakkuk Yields to God’s Purposes (Hab 3)
- Habakkuk’s Problem of Faith (Hab 1-2)
- Habakkuk’s Prayer of Faith (Hab 3)
Here is a possible three-part outline:
- Habakkuk’s First Complaint and the Lord’s Answer (Hab 1:1-11)
- Habakkuk’s Second Complaint and the Lord’s Answer (Hab 1:12-2:20)
- Habakkuk’s Prayer and Praise (Hab 3)
|↑1||The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.|