THE BOOK OF HABAKKUK

Habakkuk is the only prophet to devote his entire work to the question of the justice of God’s government of the world. In the Bible as a whole, only Job delivers a more pointed challenge to divine rule. Habakkuk’s challenge is set up as a dialogue between the prophet and God, in which Habakkuk’s opening complaint about injustices in Judean society (1:24) is followed in 1:511 by God’s promise that the perpetrators will be punished by invading Chaldeans, i.e., Babylonians. Habakkuk’s second complaint about the violence of the Chaldeans themselves (1:122:1) is followed by a second divine response assuring the prophet of the reliability of God’s rule and calling for human faithfulness (2:24).

This dialogue is followed by a series of observations on the disastrous nature of tyranny (2:520), and by a vivid description in chap. 3 of God’s appearance to save the people. Chapter 3 may be the prophet’s prayer that God fulfill the promises made earlier to Habakkuk, or a hymn praising God’s power added to Habakkuk’s speeches by editors. In either case, the description of the theophany draws heavily upon ancient traditions in which God establishes order by defeating chaos, symbolized by rebellious waters (see Jb 7:12; Ps 74:1314; 77:1721; 89:1011; Is 51:9).

Two important events frame Habakkuk’s prophecy: the great Babylonian (Chaldean) victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish (605 B.C.) and the second Babylonian invasion of Judah (587 B.C.), which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem. The desperate conditions in Judah during these years, arising from internal and external threats, provoked Habakkuk’s struggle with difficult and important theological questions about divine justice.

The book may be divided as follows:

  1. Habakkuk’s First Complaint (1:24)
  2. God’s Response (1:511)
  3. Habakkuk’s Second Complaint (1:122:1)
  4. God’s Response (2:24)
  5. Sayings Against Tyrants (2:520)
  6. Hymn About God’s Reign (3:119)

CHAPTER 1

1The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet received in a vision.

Habakkuk’s First Complaint

2How long, O LORD, must I cry for help*

and you do not listen?a

Or cry out to you, “Violence!”

and you do not intervene?

3Why do you let me see iniquity?

why do you simply gaze at evil?

Destruction and violence are before me;b

there is strife and discord.

4This is why the law is numb*

and justice never comes,

For the wicked surround the just;c

this is why justice comes forth perverted.

God’s Response

5* Look over the nations and see!

Be utterly amazed!

For a work is being done in your days

that you would not believe, were it told.d

6For now I am raising up the Chaldeans,e

that bitter and impulsive people,

Who march the breadth of the land

to take dwellings not their own.

7They are terrifying and dreadful;

their right and their exalted position are of their own making.

8Swifter than leopards are their horses,

and faster than desert wolves.

Their horses spring forward;

they come from far away;

they fly like an eagle hastening to devour.

9All of them come for violence,

their combined onslaught, a stormwind

to gather up captives like sand.

10They scoff at kings,

ridicule princes;

They laugh at any fortress,

heap up an earthen ramp, and conquer it.

11Then they sweep through like the wind and vanish—

they make their own strength their god!*

Habakkuk’s Second Complaint

12Are you not from of old, O LORD,

my holy God, immortal?f

LORD, you have appointed them for judgment,*

O Rock,* you have set them in place to punish!

13Your eyes are too pure to look upon wickedness,

and the sight of evil you cannot endure.

Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence

while the wicked devour those more just than themselves?

14You have made mortals like the fish in the sea,

like creeping things without a leader.

15He* brings them all up with a hook,

and hauls them away with his net;

He gathers them in his fishing net,

and then rejoices and exults.

16Therefore he makes sacrifices to his net,*

and burns incense to his fishing net;

For thanks to them his portion is rich,

and his meal lavish.

17Shall they, then, keep on drawing his sword

to slaughter nations without mercy?

* [1:24] The prophet complains about God’s apparent disregard for Judah’s internal evils in language that echoes the preaching of prophets like Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.

* [1:4] The law is numb: because the Lord has been silent, the Law, whether in the form of the scroll found in the Temple in the time of Josiah (2 Kgs 22) or in the form of divine instruction given by priests and prophets, has proved ineffective and so appeared to be cold, unreceptive, and powerless. For the Law to be credible, the Lord must see to it that the wicked are punished and the just rewarded.

* [1:57] Habakkuk interprets the Babylonian defeat of Egypt at Carchemish (605 B.C.) as the answer to his complaint: the Lord will send the Chaldean empire against Judah as punishment for their sins.

* [1:11] The primary aim of military campaigns by ancient Near Eastern rulers was usually the gathering of spoils and the collection of tribute rather than the annexation of territory. However, in the eighth century B.C., the Assyrians began to administer many conquered territories as provinces.

* [1:122:1] Appointed them for judgment: this complaint is directed against the violent Babylonians, the very nation God chose to punish Judah.

* [1:12] Rock: an ancient title celebrating the Lord’s power and fidelity; cf. Dt 32:4; Is 26:4; 30:29; Ps 18:3, 32, 47; 95:1.

* [1:15] He: the Babylonian king (cf. vv. 6, 13), who easily conquers other nations and treats them as objects for his entertainment and enrichment.

* [1:16] He makes sacrifices to his net: the leader attributes victory to the military weapons he wields; he and his weapons have won victory, not any god.

a. [1:2] Ps 13:2.

b. [1:3] Ez 45:9.

c. [1:4] Is 29:2021.

d. [1:5] Acts 13:41.

e. [1:6] Jer 32:28.

f. [1:12] Ps 90:2.

CHAPTER 2

1I will stand at my guard post,

and station myself upon the rampart;a

I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,

and what answer he will give to my complaint.

God’s Response

2Then the LORD answered me and said:

Write down the vision;* b

Make it plain upon tablets,

so that the one who reads it may run.

3For the vision is a witness for the appointed time,

a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint.

If it delays, wait for it,

it will surely come, it will not be late.

4See, the rash have no integrity;

but the just one who is righteous because of faith shall live.* c

Sayings Against Tyrants

5* Indeed wealth is treacherous;

a proud man does not succeed.

He who opens wide his throat like Sheol,

and is insatiable as death,

Who gathers to himself all the nations,

and collects for himself all the peoples—

6Shall not all these take up a taunt against him,d

and make a riddle about him, saying:

Ah! you who store up what is not yours

—how long can it last!—

you who load yourself down with collateral.

7Will your debtors* not rise suddenly?

Will they not awake, those who make you tremble?

You will become their spoil!

8Because you plundered many nations,

the remaining peoples shall plunder you;

Because of the shedding of human blood,

and violence done to the land,

to the city and to all who live in it.

9Ah! you who pursue evil gain for your household,

setting your nest on high

to escape the reach of misfortune!

10You have devised shame for your household,

cutting off many peoples, forfeiting your own life;

11For the stone in the wall shall cry out,*

and the beam in the frame shall answer it!

12Ah! you who build a city by bloodshed,

and who establish a town with injustice!e

13Is this not from the LORD of hosts:

peoples toil* for what the flames consume,

and nations grow weary for nothing!

14But the earth shall be filled

with the knowledge of the LORD’s glory,

just as the water covers the sea.f

15Ah! you who give your neighbors

the cup of your wrath to drink, and make them drunk,

until their nakedness is seen!g

16You are filled with shame instead of glory;

drink, you too, and stagger!

The cup from the LORD’s right hand shall come around to you,

and utter shame shall cover your glory.

17For the violence done to Lebanon* shall cover you,h

and the destruction of the animals shall terrify you;

Because of the shedding of human blood,

and violence done to the land,

to the city and to all who live in it.

18Of what use is the carved image,*

that its maker should carve it?

Or the molten image, the lying oracle,

that its very maker should trust in it,

and make mute idols?

19Ah! you who say to wood, “Awake!”

to silent stone, “Arise!”

Can any such thing give oracles?i

It is only overlaid with gold and silver,

there is no breath in it at all.

20But the LORD is in his holy temple;

silence before him, all the earth!j

* [2:2] Write down the vision: the vision is written down for two reasons: so that a herald may carry and proclaim its contents to the people, and so that the reception of the vision and its truth can be verified by its fulfillment (v. 3).

* [2:4] The just one who is righteous because of faith shall live: the faithful survive the impending doom because they trust in God’s justice and wait patiently for God to carry it out. Several New Testament passages cite these words (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; cf. Heb 10:38) to confirm the teaching that people receive justification and supernatural life through faith in Christ.

* [2:5] This verse describes any tyrant who, like the Babylonians, possesses insatiable greed.

* [2:7] Debtors: the Hebrew term can mean either debtors or creditors, and this double meaning is likely intended: the debtor nations rise up against their creditor nation and become its creditors in the reversal of affairs described here.

* [2:1112] The palaces, built at the expense of gross injustice (vv. 610), call down vengeance on their builders. This is typical prophetic language for the condemnation of social crimes within Israel and Judah.

* [2:13] Peoples toil: those oppressed by the Babylonians do not benefit from their work. Verses 1314 break the pattern of reversal in the oracles that precede and may have been added by an editor.

* [2:17] The violence done to Lebanon: the destruction of the cedar forests of Lebanon, used in lavish building projects by the great conquerors; cf. Is 14:8; 37:24. The destruction of the animals: the killing off of the wild animals through excessive hunting by the same conquerors; cf. Bar 3:16.

* [2:1820] Idolatrous worship is here shown to be folly by contrasting idols with the majesty of the one true God. Verse 18 may originally have followed v. 19, since the term “Ah!” begins each new saying in this section.

a. [2:1] Is 21:8.

b. [2:2] Is 30:8.

c. [2:4] Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38.

d. [2:6] Is 14:4.

e. [2:12] Ez 24:6; Mi 3:10; Na 3:1.

f. [2:14] Is 11:9.

g. [2:15] Jer 51:7; Lam 4:21.

h. [2:17] Is 14:8.

i. [2:19] Is 44:1819.

j. [2:20] Ps 11:4.

CHAPTER 3

Hymn About God’s Reign

1Prayer of Habakkuk, the prophet. According to Shigyonot.*

2O LORD, I have heard your renown,

and am in awe, O LORD, of your work.

In the course of years revive it,*

in the course of years make yourself known;

in your wrath remember compassion!

3* God came from Teman,*

the Holy One from Mount Paran.a

Selah

His glory covered the heavens,

and his praise filled the earth;

4his splendor spread like the light.

He raised his horns high,b

he rejoiced on the day of his strength.

5Before him went pestilence,

and plague* followed in his steps.

6He stood and shook the earth;

he looked and made the nations tremble.

Ancient mountains were shattered,

the age-old hills bowed low,

age-old orbits* collapsed.

7The tents of Cushan trembled,

the pavilions of the land of Midian.*

8Was your anger against the rivers, O LORD?

your wrath against the rivers,

your rage against the sea,* c

That you mounted your steeds,

your victorious chariot?

9You readied your bow,

you filled your bowstring with arrows.

Selah

You split the earth with rivers;

10at the sight of you the mountains writhed.

The clouds poured down water;

the deep roared loudly.

The sun* forgot to rise,

11the moon left its lofty station,d

At the light of your flying arrows,

at the gleam of your flashing spear.

12In wrath you marched on the earth,

in fury you trampled the nations.

13You came forth to save your people,

to save your anointed one.*

You crushed the back of the wicked,

you laid him bare, bottom to neck.

Selah

14* You pierced his head with your shafts;

his princes you scattered with your stormwind,

as food for the poor in unknown places.

15You trampled the sea with your horses

amid the churning of the deep waters.

16I hear, and my body trembles;

at the sound, my lips quiver.

Decay invades my bones,

my legs tremble beneath me.

I await the day of distress

that will come upon the people who attack us.

17For though the fig tree does not blossom,

and no fruit appears on the vine,

Though the yield of the olive fails

and the terraces produce no nourishment,

Though the flocks disappear from the fold

and there is no herd in the stalls,

18Yet I will rejoice in the LORD

and exult in my saving God.

19GOD, my Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet swift as those of deer

and enables me to tread upon the heights.* e

For the leader; with stringed instruments.

* [3:1] Shigyonot: a Hebrew technical term no longer understood, but probably a musical notation regarding the following hymn. This term, the references to the leader and stringed instruments at the end of the hymn (v. 19), and the use of the term selah in vv. 3, 9, and 13 are found elsewhere in the Bible only in the Psalter, and they indicate that, like the psalms, this poem was once used in worship.

* [3:2] In the course of years revive it: a plea for God to renew the works of the past.

* [3:315] Cf. the theophanies in Dt 33:23; Jgs 5:45; Ps 18:816; 68:89; 77:1721; 97:15; Na 1:36, etc. Conventional language is employed to describe the appearance of the Lord, as in Ex 19:1619.

* [3:3] Teman: a region in Edom. Mount Paran: in the territory of Edom, or the northern part of the Sinai peninsula.

* [3:5] Pestilence…plague: these may be figures who are part of the heavenly armies God leads into battle.

* [3:6] Age-old orbits: the regular paths through the skies of heavenly bodies are disrupted at the appearance of the divine warrior, as are the ancient mountains on earth. Such cosmic disruption is typical of divine appearances (Ps 18:8; Na 1:5).

* [3:7] Cushan…Midian: the inhabitants of the area southeast of Judah where the divine march originates (Teman, Mount Paran), who are shaken, together with the cosmos, at God’s appearance.

* [3:8] Rivers…sea: the forces of chaos personified as yam (Sea) and nahar (River) try to destroy the order God imposed at creation by sweeping past their boundaries and covering the earth. Their mention here and in v. 15 emphasizes that God is both creator and deliverer, subduing historical enemies and cosmic forces.

* [3:1011] Sun…moon: heavenly figures who, like pestilence and plague (v. 5), serve in God’s army, or are startled at God’s appearance, as are the ancient constellations (v. 6).

* [3:13] Your anointed one: the theocratic king, the head of God’s people. The back of the wicked: this may refer both to God’s cosmic enemy, River/Sea, and to the leader of Israel’s historical enemy.

* [3:14] The last two lines of this verse are obscure in Hebrew and difficult to translate.

* [3:19] The heights: this term can also mean “backs” and may be an image of conquest over the poet’s foes.

a. [3:3] Dt 33:2.

b. [3:4] Ps 18:3.

c. [3:8] Ps 74:13; 89:11; Is 51:9; Na 1:4.

d. [3:11] Jos 10:1213.

e. [3:19] Ps 18:3234.