Background for the Prophet Habakkuk

We do not have many details concerning the life of Habakkuk. Presumably, the prophet was a native of Judah who prophesied during the reign of Joakim (609–598 BCE) at the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s triumphs (Heschel, 1962, p. 178). We can further discern by looking at Habakkuk 1:2-4 that the prophet lived in a society filled with violence and injustice. He was a passionate and caring individual who felt the impact of wrongdoing as if he were its victim (Ashbury, 1992). On the horizon, Habakkuk envisions the Babylonian army—swift, ruthless, and unstoppable and is disturbed by what he sees. The undeniable message is that God has raised the Chaldean army as a machine of destruction to take possession of “dwelling places not their own” (Habakkuk 1:6). (Ashbury, 1992). In other words, this new destructive force was God’s answer to Judah’s sin, and this certainty distressed the prophet.

The book’s overall structure is a judicial trial with the components corresponding to the various legal aspects of the procedure (Rosner, 2020). Habakkuk agonizes over the thought that God tolerates evil and asks why God would use the Babylonians, “whose own might is their God,” to be the instrument to carry out the will of God. (Habakkuk 1:5-11). During the prophet’s dialogue with God, Habakkuk inquires why God is: “silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?” (Habakkuk 1:13). In God’s response, God reveals that the ruthless Babylonians will punish Judah and take them into exile. At the same time, God assures Habakkuk that he will eventually judge the Babylonians. Until that day, which will surely come, the prophet must “wait patiently, remain loyal to God, and trust God to show himself as just” (Rosner, 2020). In other words, divine deliverance and justice will come at an appointed time in the future. In the meantime, the prophet must wait for the outcome (Habakkuk 2:3) because the righteous shall live by their faith (Habakkuk 2:4). Such waiting requires hope that the promised vision is sure to be realized (Rosner, 2020).

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