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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Habakkuk

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HABAKKUK . The eighth of the Minor Prophets. Except for legends, e.g. in Bel and the Dragon (33 42), nothing is known of him outside the book that bears his name.

1. The Book of Habakkuk, read as it now stands, must be dated shortly after the appearance of the Chaldæans on the stage of world-history, seeing that their descent on the nations is imminent. It is probably later than the battle of Carchemish, where Nebuchadrezzar defeated the Egyptians in b.c. 605, and earlier than the first Judæan captivity in 597. If dated about the year 600, it falls in the reign of Jehoiakim, in the period of reaction that followed the defeat and death of Josiah at Megiddo (608). That event, apparently falsifying the promises of the recently discovered lawbook, had led to a general neglect of its ethical claims, and to a recrudescence of the religious abuses of the time of Manasseh (cf. 2 Kings 23:37 , Jeremiah 19:4 ff., 19:25 etc.). The one immovable article of faith held by the Judæan nation seems to have been the inviolability of Jerusalem (cf. Jeremiah 7:1-15 etc.). The book appears to be the work of a prophet living in Jerusalem. It may be divided into six sections, the first four containing two dialogues between Jahweh and the prophet, while the last two contain confident declarations springing from and expanding the Divine reply.

(1) Habakkuk 1:1-4 . Habakkuk, compelled to live in the midst of violent wrong-doing, contempt of religion manifesting itself in the oppression of the righteous by the wicked, complains strongly of the silence and indifference of God.

(2) Habakkuk 1:5-11 . He receives an answer that a new and startling display of the Divine justice is about to be made. The Chaldæans, swift, bitter, and terrible, are to sweep down and overwhelm the whole world. No fortress can resist their onslaught. The incredibility of this must be, not in the fact that the Chaldæans are the aggressors, but rather that Jerusalem, spared so long, is now to share the fate of so many other cities.

(3) Habakkuk 1:12-17 . Some time may now be supposed to elapse before the next prophecy is spoken. During this period the prophet watches the progress of the Chaldæans, who have now ( Habakkuk 2:17 ) penetrated into Palestine. His observation raises a new and insoluble problem. This reckless, insolent, cruel, insatiable conqueror is worse than those he has been appointed to chastise. How can a holy God, so ready to punish the ‘wicked’ in Israel, permit one who deserves far more the name of ‘wicked’ to rage unchecked? Are wrong and violence to possess the earth for ever?

(4) Habakkuk 2:1-4 . The prophet, retiring to his watch-tower, whence he looks out over the world, to see it in ruins, receives an oracle which he is bidden to write down on tablets for all to read. He is told that the purpose of God is hastening to its fulfilment, and is encouraged to wait for it. Then follows the famous sentence, ‘Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him: but the just shall live in his faithfulness.’ The meaning of this is plain. Tyranny is self-destructive, and carries within itself the seeds of doom. But while the evil-doer passes away, the just man, steadfast in the face of all contradiction, shall live, and last out the storm of judgment.

(5) Habakkuk 2:5-20 . Content with this message, the prophet utters, triumphantly, a five-fold series of woes against the pride, the greed, the cruel building enterprises, the sensuality, the idolatry, of the heathen power.

(6) Ch. 3. Finally, in a magnificent lyric, which, as its heading and close prove, has been adapted for use in the Temple worship, the prophet sings the glorious redeeming acts of God in the past history of the people, and in the certainty of His immediate appearance, bringing hopeless ruin on the enemy, declares his unwavering trust.

So read, this short book is seen to be a human document of unique value. It marks the beginnings of Hebrew reflective thought as to the workings of Providence in history, afterwards so powerfully expressed in Job and in the later prophets.

2. Many modern scholars are unable to accept this explanation of these three chapters. It is argued that the use of the word ‘wicked’ in different senses in Habakkuk 1:4 and Habakkuk 1:13 is unnatural, and awkward. Further, it is urged that the descriptions of the conqueror in chs. 1 and 2 do not suit the Chaldæans well at any time, and are almost impossible at so early a stage of their history as the one named. Accordingly, some have treated Habakkuk 1:5-11 as a fragment of an older prophecy, and place the hulk of chs. 1 and 2 towards the close of the Exile, near the end of the Chaldæan period. Others place Habakkuk 1:5-11 between Habakkuk 2:4 and Habakkuk 2:5 , considering that the whole section has been misplaced. The rest of the chapters are then referred to another oppressor, either Assyria or Egypt, whom the Chaldæans are raised up to punish; and ch. 3 is ascribed to another author. Others again would alter the word ‘Chaldæans,’ and treat it as an error for either ‘Persians’ or ‘Chittim.’ In the second case the reference is to the Greeks, and the destroyer is Alexander the Great. Without attempting to discuss these views, it may be said that none of them supplies any satisfactory explanation of Habakkuk 1:1-4 , in referring Habakkuk’s complaint to wrongs committed by some heathen power. The mention of ‘law’ and ‘judgment,’ Habakkuk 1:4 , seems to point decisively to internal disorders among the prophet’s own countrymen. The double use of the word ‘wicked’ may well be a powerful dramatic contrast. The speed with which the enemy moves, said by some to be altogether inapplicable to the Chaldæans, may be illustrated by the marvellously rapid ride of Nebuchadrezzar himself, from Pelusium to Babylon, to take the kingdom on the death of his father. Troops of Scythian cavalry, at the service of the highest bidder after the disbanding of their own army, were probably found with the Chaldæans. The question cannot he regarded as settled, a fuller knowledge of Chaldæan history at the opening of the 7th cent. being much to be desired.

Most scholars regard ch. 3 as a separate composition. It is urged that this poem contains no allusions to the circumstances of Habakkuk’s age, that the enemy in v. 14, rejoicing to devour the poor secretly, cannot he a great all-conquering army, that the disasters to flocks and herds (Habakkuk 1:17 ) are quite different from anything in chs. 1 and 2. It is conjectured that the poem, under Habakkuk’s name, had a place in a song-book, and was afterwards transferred, with the marks of its origin not effaced, to the close of this prophetic book. These considerations are of great weight, though it may be recalled that the poetical part of the Book of Job ends somewhat similarly, with a theophany little related to the bulk of the book. Whether the chapter belongs to Habakkuk or not, its picture of the intervention of God Himself, in His own all-powerful strength bringing to nought all the counsels of His enemies, is a fitting close to the book.

Wilfrid J. Moulton.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Habakkuk'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/h/habakkuk.html. 1909.

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