An Overview of Habakkuk: A Study in Theodicy

Divine Author: God the Holy Spirit “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is  profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Human Author: Habakkuk

Date: c. 625 – 606 BC           

Setting: The Southern Kingdom of Judah

Summary Facts: 35th book of the Bible; 3 chapters; 56 verses

Theme: The vindication of God’s holiness, justice, and providence in view of the existence of evil

The prophet Habakkuk lived prior to the Fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonian army. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was conquered in 586 BC during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

Like the other prophets of God, Habakkuk witnessed the corruption of a nation given over to idolatry and injustice, and was grieved. He knew that while the Lord is merciful, and patient, God is also just and righteous. The evil that men do must be punished. It is the form of punishment that surprises Habakkuk. He is curious to know why God would use a people more wicked than the Hebrews to discipline them.

To discover the answer, Habakkuk engages the Lord in a conversation.

A Holy Inquiry: Habakkuk Speaks: 1-2a

The Book of Habakkuk begins with an inquiry to God. Habakkuk is an eyewitness to social violence, strife, and contention. Mockery is made of the Law, and justice is not administered. Habakkuk wants to know why the Lord has allowed this to happen without correction. “How long will the Almighty and Eternal Lord (Yehovah) do nothing?”

“The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. 2 O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! 3 Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. 4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore, wrong judgment proceedeth” (Hab. 1:1-4).

For the people in Israel, life was terrible by any objective measurement. Those in leadership were doing nothing to stop the disintegration of society. Habakkuk wanted to know why he was compelled to look on the situation and be grieved.

God Speaks 1:5-11

God responds to Habakkuk’s inquiry by saying that a terrible Day of the Lord is coming upon Judah from Babylon.  “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. 6 For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs” (Hab. 1:5-6; 6-11).

Five Woe’s: (Heb. howy [hoh’ee]): Ah! Alas! Oh!

  • Habakkuk 2:6 There is an Economic Woe based on an increase of ill-gotten wealth.
  • Habakkuk 2:9 There is a Covetous Woe rooted in a desire to be personally secure.
  • Habakkuk 2:12 There is a Slavery Woe for treating people like animals, and threatening violence if there is a slack in production.
  • Habakkuk 2:15 There is an Alcoholic Woe for encouraging irresponsible drinking.  
  • Habakkuk 2:19 There is an Idolatrous Woe for those who bow before a graven image.

The Lord does not sleep or slumber in the presence of evil. Though He may seem to tarry in stopping people’s sin, it too becomes part of His plan to make all things work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Rom. 8:28).

Habakkuk Speaks: 1:12-21

The prophet makes a second inquiry. Habakkuk knows God has pure eyes and cannot look with approval on inequity. How long shall injustice last? (Hab. 1:12-17). And why would the Lord use Babylon to punish Israel when that empire is more evil? The Babylonians worship idols, they treat people worse than they treat an animal, and they oppress people to build their own nation.

Habakkuk will wait and watch, and listen for an answer from the Lord. “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved” (Hab. 2:1).

God Speaks

The Lord answered the prophet. “And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. 3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry” (Hab. 2:2-3; 4-20).

Habakkuk was assured that justice would be administered at the proper time, according to a Divine schedule. In the process, the righteous are to live by faith.

The Just Shall Live by Faith

  • Habakkuk 2:4
  • Romans 1:17
  • Galatians 3:11
  • Hebrews 10:38

In context, the faith the righteous are to have, is that God will bring Babylon to judge Judah. Then, the Lord will judge Babylon.

By way of modern application, during World War II, the Jews who suffered the Holocaust prayed and waited for God to avenge their lives under the Germans. This was eventually done by a more evil empire, Russia whom the Lord later judges in 1989, with the breakup of the Soviet sphere of influence.

In all of this we see a cycle to history as to how God raises up, and cast down, the empires of this world. The Israelites displace the Canaanites. The Assyrians and Babylonians displace the Israelites. The Mede-Persians displace the Babylonians. The Greeks conquer the Persians, only to be conquered by the Romans. The cycle continues on down through history to the present hour.

The point is established. The nations of this earth are ruled by the Sovereign with a rod of iron, according to prophesy and promise.

According to Prophesy. “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:9).

According to Promise. “And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father” (Rev. 2:27).

Habakkuk, the Prophet Prays: Habakkuk 3:1-19

In chapter 3 we come to “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth” (Hab. 3:1). Shigionoth (Heb. Shiggayown [Shig-gaw-yo-naw’]) refers to a rambling poem. With great pathos, Habakkuk will pour out his heart to God. The prophet wants the Lord to act in the present as He has acted in the past, in judging and destroying corrupt nations.

While such a prayer is not wrong, it may be the nation that is being prayed against is one’s own which is corrupt and lawless, in the eyes of God and man.

Habakkuk has full confidence that God can bring down an evil empire because of His great power and majesty. When the Lord appears in judgment, the earth trembles. There is fire on the mountain (Hab. 3:3-7; Ex. 19:18).

In his prophetic vision, Habakkuk sees the Lord parting the nation of Babylon, as easily as He once parted the water in the Red Sea (Hab. 3:9). The nation of Babylon will be crushed.

However, God will save His people, and cause them to rejoice in the Lord. “I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18).

Conclusion

The conclusion of the Book of Habakkuk, is that unless Judah repents, and returns to God, and honors His commandments, the people should expect judgment and destruction.

But it is not Judah alone that must repent. Every nation that has become like Babylon must repent.

The lesson of history is not hard to discern. When any nation becomes greedy, covetous, violent and heartless, irresponsible in sex, alcoholic consumption, and idolatrous, it is marked for Divine discipline, and, perhaps, destruction.

While God will have mercy on those who walk by faith, and trust in Him, the rest of humanity should tremble in time, for they will quake in eternity.

The righteous have no need to fear the present, or the future. Even when there is war, and rumors of war, drought, famine, violence in society, or political intrigue, our God reigns. The Lord will protect and watch over His own. The just shall live by faith.

Scriptures to Remember

“Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you” (Hab. 1:5).

Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” (Hab. 1:13).

“Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4).

“For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

“But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab. 2:20).

“O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2).

“Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.  The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments” (Hab. 3:18-19).

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