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by Donald C. Fleming
Although Habakkuk does not mention the Judean kings of his time, the contents of his book indicate the era in which he prophesied. He announced his message during the closing years of the kingdom of Judah, when Babylon had risen to power and Judah was threatened with conquest.
The prophet and the Babylonians
With its conquest of Assyria in 612 BC, Babylon became the leading power in the region of Mesopotamia and Palestine. Then in 605 BC it defeated Egypt at Carchemish on the Euphrates River (see map located in the commentary on Nahum). Since Egypt had earlier defeated Judah, this meant that Babylon replaced Egypt as Judah’s overlord (2 Kings 23:33-35; 2 Kings 24:7; Daniel 1:1-4).
When Judah rebelled against Babylon, the Babylonian armies captured Jerusalem, took all the best people into captivity, and appointed a new king over those who remained in the city (597 BC; 2 Kings 24:10-17). When, after some years, the new king also rebelled, Babylon finally lost patience. It destroyed Jerusalem and took most of the remaining people into captivity. This was the end of the kingdom of Judah (587 BC; 2 Kings 25:1-12).
The prophet Habakkuk lived during the early days of this build-up of Babylonian control over Judah. His book records how he argued with God when he learnt that God was preparing Babylon to be his instrument to punish Judah. Habakkuk was confused, perhaps angry, because he knew that the Babylonians were worse sinners than the Judeans. God assured Habakkuk that any of the Judeans who remained faithful to him had no cause for fear. Although the nation as a whole would be destroyed, the faithful would enjoy his favour.
God had a message for the Babylonians as well. They had no cause for self-satisfaction. They had shown an intolerable arrogance in conquering God’s people, and therefore they too would suffer a divine judgment.
Habakkuk’s faith was strengthened through his dialogue with God. He may not have received the detailed explanations from God that he was looking for, but he received a revelation of God’s power and wisdom that gave him a better knowledge of God and a determination to remain faithful to him.
Habakkuk complains and God answers
Habakkuk trusts in God’s judgment
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29