The book of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1)

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The book of Habakkuk divides naturally into two clearly defined sections: A segment in which the prophet seeks and receive answers from God in response to some hard questions (Habakkuk 1-2) is followed by a psalm of praise (Habakkuk 3). The author, Habakkuk, is unknown to modern readers beyond the little we can glean from the book itself. The prophet’s name appears both in the title of the book at 1:1 and at 3:1, where it serves as the superscript to the psalm (see Psalm Superscripts under Psalm 3). In spite of this many scholars have questioned whether Habakkuk wrote the entire book, and in particular whether the psalm of chapter 3 was composed by the same man who wrote chapters 1 and 2. Interestingly, the Habakkuk Pesher (a pesher is an ancient Jewish commentary on a Biblical book) from Qumran (found among the Dead Sea Scrolls) contains only the text of Habakkuk 1-2. This commentary dates to the first century B.C.

Other ancient manuscripts do, however, support the unity of Habakkuk. The scroll of the Minor Prophets from Wadi Murabbaat (in the Judean desert), dating to the second century A.D. does contain all three chapters of Habakkuk, as does an ancient Greek text of the prophecy contained in the Greek Scroll of the Minor Prophets from Nahal Hever from the first century A.D. In light of this evidence, together with the fact that the book explicitly claims that Habakkuk wrote all three chapters, there is no reason to question the text’s single authorship.

The prophet was clearly aware that Jerusalem and Judah were under threat from the Babylonians (1:6); therefore, most scholars date the manuscript to be late seventh century B.C., perhaps soon after the reign of Josiah.

The book of Habakkuk, presented as a dialogue between God and the prophet, was composed for the benefit of the people of Judah. Habakkuk was troubled by Judah’s idolatry, indifference to God and social injustice and wondered how long God would ignore the blatant wickedness of His people. God responded by revealing that His judgement would come through the Babylonians.

Habakkuk, like Job, raised the question of the justice of God, but he did so in the historical context of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and in the literary context of the prophets – not through the more philosophical genre of Wisdom Literature. Habakkuk 1:3 asks how God could tolerate injustice, referring to the disregard for the law in Judah (1:4), and 1:6 delineates God’s answer: He would punish His people through the Babylonians. This answer perplexed Habakkuk even more. How could a just God use the Babylonians, a people even more wicked than Judah, to chastise His own people? Habakkuk reminded God that the Babylonians were a pagan and ruthless nation who, for whatever reason, seemed never to suffer on this account (1:16-17). God assured His prophet by asserting that those who plunder many nations will themselves be plundered (2:8); He then went on to catalogue a series of woes against all who practice evil (2:9-20). Habakkuk’s prayer psalm was his response to this revelation. In short, the book of Habakkuk is a defence of the justice of God, a call for believers to maintain their faith even in the face of difficult times (2:4).

As you read, attempt to enter vicariously into Habakkuk’s frame of mind as he wrestled with God over what appeared to him to be evident injustice. You might want to take the time to compare and contrast Habakkuk’s approach to God with Job’s (skim through the book of Job and look for the passages in which Job addressed his Maker). Follow up comparing Habakkuk’s public expression of faith in chapter 3 with Job’s eventual affirmation of God’s love and goodness.

Did you know that Habakkuk is probably a Babylonian name, referring to a kind of garden plant (1:1)? Did you know that the timbers of the highly prized cedars of Lebanon had been ravaged for centuries by the kings of Assyria and Babylon to adorn their temples and palaces? Assyrian inscriptions record hunting expeditions in the Lebanon range, and the invading Babylonians may have engaged in such sport as well (2:17). Did you know that the Old Testament writers frequently combined recollections of the mighty acts of God with conventional images of a fearsome manifestation of His power? He is depicted as riding on the mighty thunderstorm as His chariot, His arrows flying in all directions, a cloudburst of rain descending upon the earth and the mountains quaking before Him (3:3). Did you know that “plague” was one of the elements of the characteristics triad of divine punishment: sword, famine and plague (3:5)?


 

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