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by Daniel Whedon
HABAKKUK is the eighth of the Minor Prophets. The name means embrace or ardent embrace. Some of the ancient rabbis, connecting the name with 2 Kings 4:16, “thou shalt embrace a son,” imagined that the prophet was the son of the Shunammite woman. The LXX. form of the name Hambakoum, Theod. Hambakouk, presupposes the Hebrew Habbakuk. A similar word occurs in Assyrian as the name of a garden plant.
While the book itself throws little light on the person of the prophet, and the rest of the Old Testament is silent, concerning him, numerous legends have grown up around his name. The identification of the prophet with the son of the Shunammite woman is one. Another, connecting Isaiah 21:6, with Habakkuk 2:1, makes Habakkuk the watchman set by Isaiah to watch for the fall of Babylon. One of the recensions of the LXX. text of Bel and the Dragon declares that the story was taken “from the prophecy of Habakkuk, the son of Jesus, of the tribe of Levi.” This must refer to an unknown apocryphal book ascribed to our prophet. What authority there may be for calling his father Jesus we do not know; the claim that he was of the tribe of Levi may be based upon the presence of the musical note at the end of the third chapter. According to the Lives of the Prophets (see Nahum, p. 429), he belonged to Beth-zoher, or Beth-zaher, of the tribe of Simeon. A very interesting story is found in Bel and the Dragon (33-39):
“Now there was in Jewry the prophet Hambakoum (= Habakkuk), who had made pottage, and had broken bread into a bowl, and was going into the field, for to bring it to the reapers. But the angel of the Lord said unto Habakkuk, Go, carry the dinner that thou hast into Babylon unto Daniel, who is in the lions’ den. And Habakkuk said, Lord, I never saw Babylon; neither do I know where the den is. Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown, and lifted him up by the hair of his head, and with the blast of his breath set him in Babylon over the den. And Habakkuk cried, saying, O Daniel, Daniel, take the dinner which God hath sent thee. And Daniel said, Thou hast remembered me, O God: neither hast thou forsaken them that love thee. So Daniel arose, and did eat: and the angel of God set Habakkuk in his own place immediately.” According to the Lives, Habakkuk died two years before the return of the exiles from Babylon. All these legends have little or no historical value.
The Interpretation of Chapters 1, 2.
Since the date to which chapters 1, 2 are assigned depends very largely upon their interpretation, the latter may be considered first. The different interpretations advocated may be grouped under three heads: 1. The prophet teaches that the sin of Judah is to be punished by the Chaldeans, who in turn will suffer severe punishment. 2. Nothing is said of the sin of Judah; the prophet dwells upon the wrongs done to Judah and other nations by the Chaldeans, and announces the impending doom of the oppressor. 3. Nothing is said of the sin of Judah; the present oppressors are not the Chaldeans, but the Assyrians (Budde, Betteridge) or the Egyptians (G.A. Smith), whose overthrow is to be accomplished by the Chaldeans.
These views will become clearer if a brief outline of the two chapters according to each view is given: I. According to the first view:
Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:2-4. The corruption of Judah; the oppression of the righteous Jews by the wicked Jews, which calls for the divine manifestation in judgment against the oppressors.
Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5-11. Jehovah announces that he is about to send the Chaldeans to execute judgment.
Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:12-17. The prophet is perplexed. He cannot understand how a righteous God can use these barbarians to execute judgment upon a people more righteous than they. He considers even the wicked among the Jews better than the Chaldeans.
Habbakuk Habakkuk 2:1-4. Jehovah solves the perplexing problem by announcing that the exaltation of the Chaldeans will be but temporary; in the end they will meet their doom, while the righteous will live.
Habbakuk Habakkuk 2:5-20. Woes against the Chaldeans.
II. The second view finds it necessary to change the present arrangement of the verses. Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5-11, in the present position, will not fit into the interpretation. For this reason Wellhausen and others omit these verses as a later addition; on the other hand, Giesebrecht would place them before Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:2, as the opening verses of the prophecy. The transposition would require a few other minor changes, so as to make the verses a suitable beginning and establish a smooth transition from verse 11 to verse 2. Omitting the troublesome verses, the following outline of the two chapters may be given: Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:2-4. The oppression of the righteous Jews by the wicked Chaldeans.
Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:12-17. Appeal to Jehovah on behalf of the Jews against their oppressors.
Habbakuk Habakkuk 2:1-4. Jehovah promises deliverance (see above). Habbakuk Habakkuk 2:5-20. Woes against the Chaldeans.
III. The third view also finds it necessary to alter the present order of verses. Again Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5-11, in the present position, interferes with the theory; therefore these verses are given a more suitable place after Habbakuk Habakkuk 2:4.
According to this interpretation the outline is as follows: Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:2-4. Oppression of the righteous Jews by the wicked Assyrians (Budde) or Egyptians (G.A. Smith).
Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:12-17. Appeal to Jehovah on behalf of the oppressed against the oppressor.
Habbakuk Habakkuk 2:1-4. Jehovah promises deliverance (see above). Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5-11. The Chaldeans will be the instruments to execute judgment upon the oppressors and to bring deliverance to the Jews.
Habbakuk Habakkuk 2:5-20. Woes against the Assyrians or Egyptians. Each of these views has its defenders among scholars. A full discussion is not possible in a book of this character, and all that we may do here is to set the facts in a clear light and indicate which of the three views offers the most probable interpretation.
III. Against the third view several objections have been urged: 1. It would be exceedingly difficult to account for the transposition of Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5-11, from their original position after Habbakuk Habakkuk 2:4, to their present place. The explanation offered by Budde is ingenious but not convincing. A.B. Davidson says of it, “If it is true, criticism is not without its romance.” 2. The absence of all mention of the Assyrians or Egyptians is peculiar. There may have been “no need of naming” them (Betteridge), but when other considerations make it doubtful that these nations are meant the silence cannot be overlooked. 3. From Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5-11, no matter where these verses are placed, it would seem that the Chaldeans and their methods of warfare were well known to the prophet; but on this view the Chaldeans were just appearing upon the scene when the prophecy was uttered. The powers of the Chaldeans were first shown in the overthrow of the Assyrians and the Egyptians. 4. According to this theory Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5-11, refers to the Chaldeans, Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:12-17, to the Assyrians or Egyptians; but a comparison of Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:11, “whose might is his god,” with Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:16, “he sacrificeth unto his net, and burneth incense unto his drag,” results in the impression that both passages refer to one and the same nation.
II. The same objections cannot be urged against the second view. The arbitrary treatment of Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5-11, constitutes the only serious objection. It is very easy to throw out verses, but few are ready to consider the fact that a certain passage runs counter to an otherwise doubtful theory as sufficient reason for omitting it. If it is regarded an earlier independent prophecy its present position must still be accounted for. To transpose the verses to the beginning of the chapter does not remove the difficulty, for they are less suitable there than verses 2-4, which permit a natural and consistent development of thought.
I. Objections have been raised also against the first view: 1. It makes the “wicked” in one place a portion of the Jews (Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:4); in another (Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:13), the Chaldeans. 2. It is said that in Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5-6, the “raising up” of the Chaldeans is still in the future, while Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:13-16; Habbakuk Habakkuk 2:5-20, describe their treatment of the conquered nations in a manner which seems to indicate that the Chaldeans and their manner of warfare were well known. 3. It seems unnatural that “in a prophecy the main theme of which is to set forth the injustice which Israel suffers, and to announce judgment upon its authors,” injustice prevalent in Israel should receive the emphasis given to it by the prophet in Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:2-4.
One can readily see, however, that these objections have less foundation than those urged against the other interpretations. Taking them in the order stated, the following may be said in reply: 1. There is no plausible reason why a general term like “righteous” or “wicked” may not refer, in one and the same discourse, to more than one person. Why may not one discourse deal with two classes of persons, both of which deserve to be called “wicked”? 2. The second objection rests upon a misapprehension. The reference in Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:6, is not to the first appearance of the Chaldeans in history, but to their first and imminent advance against Judah. When they undertook the first expedition against Judah, several important conquests had been achieved by them, and there had been ample opportunity to become acquainted with them and the manner of their warfare. 3. It may be questioned whether the objector has defined properly the “main theme” of the two chapters. The text, as it now stands, permits a perfectly natural development of the prophet’s thought; in reality, the development becomes more vivid, for instead of one problem that perplexes the prophet we have two, and instead of one divine reply we have two. Surely there is nothing impossible or improbable in this (see further on Contents).
On the whole, the first interpretation, which requires no omissions or transpositions, seems to satisfy most completely the facts in the case, and it is along this line that the prophecy of Habakkuk is interpreted in the subsequent pages.
The Date of the Prophecy.
Here we are concerned primarily with the date of the prophetic activity of Habakkuk. Whether or not all the utterances in the book are rightly ascribed to him will be considered in a subsequent section.
The question of date is closely bound up with that of interpretation. Budde, on the theory that the oppressors threatened with destruction are the Assyrians (above, III), dates the prophecy 621-615 B.C. Granting that the Assyrians are in the mind of the prophet, which has been shown to be improbable, this date is open to serious objections. Betteridge, who agrees with Budde in regarding the Assyrians as the oppressors, says with much justice ( American Journal of Theology, 1903, pp. 674ff.): “On our view of the direction of the prophecy against the Assyrians and of its attitude toward the Chaldeans, it is impossible to suppose that it could have originated at any time within the last quarter of the seventh century B.C. This is the weak point in Budde’s theory. While giving him all honor for his brilliant discovery that the prophecy is directed against the Assyrians, yet we feel that he was too much influenced by the traditional placing of the book at the close of the seventh century to draw the necessary inference from his theory and seek a satisfactory occasion for the prophecy.”
After 626 B.C. the hold of Assyria on the Palestinian states relaxed; and the description of Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:2-4, if it applies to the Assyrians, becomes unsuitable after that date. On the other hand, so far as we know, the Chaldeans had not become sufficiently prominent in 621-615 to enable the prophet and his contemporaries to learn of their cruelties and of their manner of treating conquered nations. But such knowledge is presupposed in Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5 ff., for the rejection of which verses there is insufficient reason, and which are retained by Budde and placed after Habbakuk Habakkuk 2:4. If the Assyrians are alluded to, a much more satisfactory date is that suggested by Betteridge, namely, about 701 B.C., in connection with the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:19). “As we interpret the prophecy and understand the history, Habakkuk was an associate of Isaiah in this great crisis of Jewish history, and just at the time when Isaiah was so vigorously asserting that Jerusalem should not fall into the hands of the Assyrians, Habakkuk comes forward with a similar assurance.… Our view that Habakkuk is a pupil and associate of Isaiah furnishes the most satisfactory explanation of the remarkable similarity in thought and diction between his prophecy and many of the utterances of Isaiah.” The threat that the Chaldeans will execute judgment he connects with Chaldean uprisings, rumors of which he thinks caused Sennacherib to raise the siege of Jerusalem (2 Kings 19:6-7; Isaiah 37:6-7); earlier uprisings under Merodach-baladan would have enabled the prophet to learn something of the character of the Chaldeans.
If Habakkuk prophesied against the Assyrians, this is the most suitable date for the prophecy; if they are not the oppressors (see above, pp. 464ff.), then with the Assyrians fall the dates proposed by Budde and by Betteridge.
If the prophecy is directed against Egypt, we are shut up to a very definite period, between 608 and 604 B.C. In the former year Necho, Pharaoh of Egypt, conquered and slew Josiah of Judah near Megiddo, and asserted his sovereignty by deposing the successor of Josiah, Jehoahaz, whom the people had chosen, and placing on the throne Jehoiakim. But the rule of Egypt was short-lived. In 605 or 604 Nebuchadnezzar met Necho in battle near the Hittite capital, Carchemish, on the Euphrates. The Egyptians suffered a decisive defeat, and their rule in Judah came to an end. Only during the period between these two events had Egypt the opportunity to oppress Judah as described in Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:2-4; hence between the two dates the prophecy of Habakkuk must have been uttered. But are the Egyptians the oppressors? The reasons advanced against identifying the oppressor with the Assyrians are equally applicable here. If so, the prophecy may have to be assigned to a different date.
A different date is suggested by those who think that the wrongdoing condemned in Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:2-4, is the oppression of Judah by the Chaldeans, and that the entire prophecy (omitting Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5-11) is directed against the latter. If the Chaldeans are the oppressors of Judah, the prophecy must be assigned to a date subsequent to the battle of Carchemish in 605-604, for only after the defeat of the Egyptians could the Chaldeans carry out a policy of world conquest; and it was some years after that event that the Chaldeans first came into direct contact with Judah. But on this theory Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:2-4; Habakkuk 1:12 ff.; Habakkuk 2:8 ff., presuppose the lapse of a considerable period of conquest, the subduing of many nations, the cruel oppression of Judah for some length of time; therefore, Nowack is undoubtedly correct, on this theory, in bringing the prophecy down to a period subsequent to the first exile in 597, or, as he says, “in round numbers about 590 B.C.” But does Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:2-4, refer to oppression by the Chaldeans? (See above, pp. 464ff.)
A different date must be sought if Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:2-4, is interpreted as referring to the oppression of Jews by Jews, and Habakkuk 1:5 ff., as a threat that Jehovah will raise up the Chaldeans, already known as a nation thirsting for blood, to punish the wickedness of Judah. These verses would seem to indicate (1) that the Chaldeans had not yet come into direct contact with Judah, and (2) that they had already given exhibitions of the cruel character of their warfare. Nebuchadnezzar advanced against Judah about 600 B.C.; but the years since the fall of Nineveh, in 607-606, and the battle of Carchemish, in 605-604, had given abundant opportunity to the Chaldeans to reveal their true character, and to the prophet and his contemporaries to become acquainted with this cruel successor of Nineveh. On this theory, therefore, the prophetic activity of Habakkuk must be assigned to a date shortly before 600 B.C.
That the description in Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:2-4, fits this date, a comparison of these verses with the prophecies of Jeremiah delivered at approximately the same time will readily show; compare, for example, Jeremiah 25:27, Jeremiah 25:35. “From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even unto this day, these three and twenty years, the word of Jehovah hath come unto me, and I have spoken unto you, rising up early and speaking; but ye have not hearkened. And Jehovah hath sent unto you all his servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them (but ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear), saying, Return ye now every one from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that Jehovah hath given unto you and to your fathers, from of old and even for evermore; and go not after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and provoke me not to anger with the work of your hands; and I will do you no hurt. Yet ye have not hearkened unto me, saith Jehovah; that ye may provoke me to anger with the work of your hands to your own hurt. Therefore thus saith Jehovah of hosts: Because ye have not heard my words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith Jehovah, and I will send unto Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about; and I will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and a hissing, and perpetual desolations” (Jeremiah 25:3-9; compare Zephaniah, pp. 510ff).
Integrity of the Book.
More than one half of the book, including Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5-11; Habakkuk 2:9-20; chapter 3 entire, has been denied to the prophet Habakkuk. If the prophecy is interpreted properly (see above) no valid reason for the rejection of Habbakuk Habakkuk 1:5-11, can be found. Verses 9-20 of chapter 2 are denied to Habakkuk chiefly on two grounds: 1. The “woes” are said to be, in part at least, unsuitable, if supposed to be addressed to the Chaldean king. 2.
Some parts, especially verses 12-14, “consist largely of citations and reminiscences of other passages, including some late ones” (compare verse 12 with Micah 3:10; verse 13 with Jeremiah 51:58; verse 14 with Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 16 b with Jeremiah 25:15-16; verses 18-20 with Isaiah 44:9 ff; Isaiah 46:6-7; Jeremiah 10:1-16). On these grounds Stade, Kuenen, and others consider verses 9-20 an expansion, made in postexilic times, of an original “woe” in verses 6-8. Others, like Budde and Nowack, do not cast aside the entire section, but only small parts. In general it may be said for details the comments on the separate verses should be read that it is difficult to see how the reasons advanced against the authenticity of Habbakuk Habakkuk 2:9-20, can be regarded conclusive in any sense.
The argument from literary parallels is always precarious (see Joel, p. 136). In the present case the resemblances are few in number; in some instances, if any dependence exists, Habakkuk may be the borrower, for both Isaiah and Micah preceded him; other passages (for example, Jeremiah 51:58) look as if they were dependent upon Habakkuk. The remaining passages are few and the resemblances are of a character that do not necessarily presuppose literary dependence. The other objection is equally inconclusive. It may be admitted that the woes are not all applicable to the Chaldean king as an individual. But why should the prophet heap these woes upon him as an individual? The king is and can be condemned only as representing the policy of the nation; he may even be regarded as a personification of the nation. If so, the woes must be intended for the whole nation, and such interpretation removes all difficulties.
Chapter 3 raises a more difficult problem, and this chapter is denied to the prophet with greater unanimity. Budde says, “To Stade belongs the credit of having first shown that the authorship of Habakkuk is on internal grounds impossible.” If impossible, nothing more need be said on the subject. But is it impossible? In the first place, it is urged against the originality of the chapter that it belongs to the psalm literature. The “prayer” undoubtedly has all the marks of a psalm, and it may be readily admitted that it is a psalm. The most important of these marks are, the use of the word selah (three times, in the Psalter seventy-one times), the expressions “for the chief musician” (in the Psalter fifty-five times) and “on my stringed instruments” (occurring, without the pronoun, in five psalms), and “prayer” (verse 1) as the title of a poetic piece (in five psalms, compare also Psalms 72:20). It may even be true that at one time this chapter was a part of a larger collection, and that it was used in public worship; but this again does not disprove the authorship of Habakkuk, unless we accept the extreme view of a few modern scholars that there is no pre-exilic psalm literature. If the possibility of pre-exilic psalm composition is once granted and the present writer thinks that this must be done, when all the facts are carefully considered the abstract possibility of Habakkuk being a psalm writer cannot be denied. Certainly, the testimony of the title does not settle the question finally; it occupies the same position as the psalm titles in the Psalter, which, as is generally admitted, cannot be followed implicitly; their accuracy must be tested by any criteria that may be at hand, such as historical allusions, style, the relation to other writers whose dates are known, and the character of the religious ideas expressed, but we are not warranted in casting them aside without this careful examination. This care must be exercised in the examination of the prayer of Habakkuk. Its linguistic peculiarities do not point necessarily to a late date. It is undoubtedly true that “to the circumstances of Habakkuk’s age, so clearly reflected in chapters 1, 2, there are here no allusions”; on the other hand, it is equally true that there are no allusions pointing clearly to circumstances different from those of Habakkuk’s period, with the possible exception of verses 16ff., which seem to allude to a calamity other than the invasion of the Chaldeans; and Driver says, not without reason, “Had the poet been writing under the pressure of a hostile invasion, the invasion itself would naturally have been expected to form the prominent feature in this picture.” The difference in style as compared with that of the first two chapters is indecisive, because the latter are written in prose, and the poetic style of an author may differ greatly from that employed in prose writings.
The literary productions which are related most closely to this chapter in substance, form, and style are Exodus 15:0, Deuteronomy 33:0, Judges 5:0 all coming from periods earlier than that of Habakkuk. So far as the religious conceptions are concerned, there is again in the chapter nothing that may be considered an evidence of a late date.
Hence, while it may be impossible to prove that Habakkuk is the author of the “prayer,” it is equally impossible to prove that he is not; and while there are a few indications which seem to point to a situation different from that of Habakkuk, these are by no means definite enough to exclude the possibility of Habakkuk’s authorship. In the absence of conclusive evidence to the contrary, it has been thought only proper to treat, in this commentary, the “prayer” as an original part of Habakkuk’s prophecies.
Contents, Outline, and Teaching.
1 . Contents. Though the contents have been touched upon in the section dealing with the interpretation of the book, it may be useful to give in this place a connected statement of the contents according to the interpretation adopted in this commentary.
The prophecy opens with a complaint about the seeming indifference of Jehovah in the presence of widespread corruption in Judah. The prophet is perplexed, for he cannot reconcile this indifference with his conception of the character of Jehovah (Habakkuk 1:2-4). In reply Jehovah declares that judgment is about to be executed, the executioners are to be the Chaldeans, “that bitter and hasty nation, that march through the breadth of the earth” (Habakkuk 1:5-11). This announcement, instead of quieting the prophet’s perplexity, only intensifies it. Can a holy God look in silence upon the cruelties perpetrated by the Chaldeans? Judah, indeed, does deserve punishment, but how can the pure and righteous Jehovah employ as his executioners the godless Chaldeans? Is Judah to be utterly annihilated by this monster? Is the triumph of the Chaldeans to continue forever? These and similar questions present a new problem, which taxes his faith (Habakkuk 1:12-17). But he will not permit his faith to be wrecked; he will wait until he receives a divine solution (Habakkuk 2:1). The prophet does not wait in vain. Jehovah grants a solution in the form of an inner vision, which is to be made known to all: “Write the vision, and make it plain upon tablets, that he may run that readeth it” (Habakkuk 2:2). The writing down is necessary because the fulfillment will be delayed until the “appointed time.” When the latter appears the tablet will testify to the truthfulness of Jehovah and of his prophet (Habakkuk 2:3).
The contents of the vision are stated in brief enigmatical form: “Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him; but the righteous shall live by his faith.” The meaning of this message is that there is a moral distinction between the Chaldeans and the people of Jehovah: the one, puffed up, glowing in his own might as his god, insincere in his dealings with other nations, lacks the moral elements which alone insure permanence, while the other possesses the fidelity and moral integrity which insure him permanence; he cannot perish, he will endure forever (Habakkuk 2:4). Bearing in mind this moral distinction, the prophet may rest assured that in the end the righteous Jew will triumph, while the ungodly Chaldean must perish. There follows a verse which describes more fully the character of the Chaldeans (Habakkuk 2:5).
The doom of the cruel oppressor is determined in the divine councils, therefore the wronged nations may begin to rejoice over his downfall. These nations the prophet introduces as taking up a taunt-song against the doomed Chaldeans. It is in the form of five woes upon the evil traits in the enemy’s character and upon his deeds of cruelty: (1) Upon lust of conquest and plunder (Habakkuk 2:6-8); (2) upon rapacity (Habakkuk 2:9-11); (3) upon the building of cities with the blood and property of strangers (Habakkuk 2:12-14); (4) upon cruelty toward conquered kings and nations (Habakkuk 2:15-17); (5) upon idolatry (Habakkuk 2:18-20).
The prophecy closes with a lyrical passage (Habakkuk 3:1-19), called in the title “prayer.” In a broad sense the entire chapter is a prayer, though only verse 2 contains a petition, “O Jehovah, revive thy work in the midst of the years; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” The petitioner speaks for himself and the community. He remembers the mighty works of Jehovah for his people; the thought of them causes him to tremble; yet he prays for a repetition of these ancient works (2). In majestic pictures the poet describes the wonderful manifestations of Jehovah in the past; he came forth in awful brightness; nature and men trembled before him; the rivers and the sea were dried up; the sun and the moon hid themselves in terror (Habakkuk 3:3-11). All this was done “for the salvation of thine anointed” (Habakkuk 3:12-15). In the remaining verses the psalmist describes the feelings within himself at the remembrance of these manifestations: at first, fear and trembling (Habakkuk 3:16 a), then joy and confidence in the God of his salvation. Whatever the temporary hardships and wants, Jehovah is his portion, and in due time he will prove himself the God of his salvation (Habakkuk 3:16-19).
Only the Hebrew student can get an adequate idea of the literary excellence of the Book of Habakkuk. “The literary power of Habakkuk,” says Driver, “is considerable. Though his book is a brief one, it is full of force; his descriptions are graphic and powerful; thought and expression are alike poetic; he is still a master of the old classical style, terse, parallelistic, pregnant; there is no trace of the often prosaic diffusiveness which manifests itself in the writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. And if chapter iii be his, he is, moreover, a lyric poet of high order; the grand imagery and the rhythmic flow of this ode will bear comparison with some of the finest productions of the Hebrew muse.”
2 . Outline. TITLE THE AUTHOR Habakkuk 1:1
I. THE PROPHET’S PERPLEXITY; THE DIVINE SOLUTION Habakkuk 1:2 to Habakkuk 2:5
1. The prophet’s perplexity: How can Jehovah justify his indifference in the presence of wickedness and violence? Habakkuk 1:2-4
2. Jehovah’s reply: He is not indifferent; the well-merited judgment is about to be executed by the ChaldeansHabakkuk 1:5-11; Habakkuk 1:5-11
3. A new perplexity: How can a holy God employ an impure and godless agent? Habakkuk 1:12-17
4. God’s final reply: The Chaldeans, though temporarily exalted, will meet certain doom; the righteous, though temporarily afflicted, will live forever Habakkuk 2:1-5
II. TAUNT-SONG OVER THE DOWNFALL OF THE CHALDEANS Habakkuk 2:6-20
1. Woe upon lust of conquest and plunder Habakkuk 2:6-8
2. Woe upon rapacity Habakkuk 2:9-11
3. Woe upon the building of cities with the blood and property of strangers Habakkuk 2:12-14
4. Woe upon cruelty toward conquered kings and nations Habakkuk 2:15-17
5. Woe upon idolatry Habakkuk 2:18-20
III. THE PRAYER OF HABAKKUK Habakkuk 3:1-19
1. The title The author and melody Habakkuk 3:1
2. The petition: “Revive thy work” Habakkuk 3:2
3. The mighty works of Jehovah in the past Habakkuk 3:3-15
(1) Jehovah’s terrible approach Habakkuk 3:3-7
(2) Question: Why did Jehovah appear? Habakkuk 3:8-12
(3) Answer: For the salvation of his people Habakkuk 3:13-15
4. The poet’s confidence in Jehovah, the God of his salvation Habakkuk 3:16-19
3. Teaching. Habakkuk has been called “the prophet of faith.” He possessed a strong, living faith in Jehovah; but he, like many other pious souls, was troubled and perplexed by the apparent inequalities and inconsistencies of life. He found it difficult to reconcile these with his lofty conception of Jehovah. Nevertheless, he does not sulk; boldly he presents his perplexity to Jehovah, who points the way to a solution, and the prophet comes forth from the struggle with a faith stronger and more intense than ever. An admirable description of him is given in the words of Tennyson:
Perplexed in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.
He fought his doubts and gathered strength,
He would not make his judgment blind,
He faced the specters of the mind
And laid them; thus he came at length
To find a stronger faith his own,
And Power was with him in the night,
Which makes the darkness and the light,
And dwells not in the light alone,
But in the darkness and the cloud,
As over Sinai’s peaks of old,
While Israel made their gods of gold,
Although the trumpet blew so loud.
We might expect that a man with such firm hold on God, with such living experience of God, would give expression, even in a brief book, to some great and permanent religious truths; and in this instance our expectations are not disappointed. Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah, but he differs from him in a marked manner. Jeremiah is forever denouncing the sins of the people; of the Chaldeans he speaks almost exclusively as instruments of Jehovah; he has little to say about their cruelties and does not condemn them. Habakkuk, on the other hand, devotes only three verses (Habakkuk 1:2-4) to the sins of Judah; and, while recognizing the Chaldeans as instruments of Jehovah, he condemns them persistently for their wrongdoing, and the climax of the prophecy is the promise of their ultimate annihilation. In this the prophet resembles Nahum, who, like Habakkuk, was concerned primarily with the cruelties and the doom of the oppressor.
It is in connection with his attempts to solve the perplexing problems raised by the unpunished sins of his countrymen and the unlimited success of the godless Chaldeans that Habakkuk gives utterance to two sublime truths: 1. The universality of the moral government of Jehovah. The latter is interested not only in Israel; though, like the other prophets, Habakkuk believes in a special divine providence over Israel; his rule embraces the whole earth; the destinies of all the nations are in his hand. The Chaldeans are punished not merely for their sins against Israel, but for the oppression of other nations as well. Being the only God, he cannot permit the worship of other gods. Temporarily the Chaldeans may worship idols (Habakkuk 2:18-20) or make might their god; they may “sacrifice unto their nets” and burn incense “unto their drag,” because by them “their portion is fat and their food plenteous”; but Jehovah is from everlasting, the Holy One, and he will attest his supremacy by utterly destroying the boastful conqueror with his idols. 2. The second important truth is expressed in Habakkuk 2:4, “The righteous shall live by his faithfulness.” Faithfulness assures permanency. The thought expressed by the prophet is not identical with that expressed by the apostle who quotes the words (Galatians 3:11); nevertheless the former expresses a truth of profound significance (for details see comments). “Faithfulness” is with the prophet, in a sense, an external thing; it signifies integrity, fidelity, steadfastness in righteousness under all provocations; but this implies, in a real sense, the New Testament conception of “faith” as an active principle of right conduct. A living faith determines conduct; religion and ethics go hand in hand, and especially in the hour of adversity a belief in Jehovah and unflinching reliance upon him are the strongest preservers of fidelity and integrity. Faith without works is dead; faith expresses itself in life. Habakkuk places chief emphasis upon the expressions of faith, and he does so rightly; but in doing so he also calls attention, by implication at least, to the motive power behind the external manifestations. As an expression of living faith Habakkuk 3:17-19, is without superior in the Old Testament.
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29