We do not know much about the prophet Habakkuk. His name does not appear anywhere else in the scriptures. He is mentioned in an apocryphal book ‘Bell and the Dragon’. It does not appear to be a Hebrew name, although there is a Hebrew word that sounds a bit like it meaning ‘embrace’. It may well be an Akkadian word for a garden plant. The Gilgamesh Epic comes from Akkadia. After the Assyrians carried the Northern Kingdom away in 721 BC, they repopulated Israel with foreigners. These, along with repopulated foreigners after the Babylonian conquest, became known as the Samaritans in the New Testament. Habukkuk’s grand parents may have been one of these foreigners. He must have learned the Torah and become a believer with the Jews because his book demonstrates a good knowledge of Jewish history, and a deep trust in the God of the Jews, Yahweh.
He is a prophet contemporary with Jeremiah. Nahum and Zephaniah were prophets at that time as well. The Assyrian invasion was almost 100 years earlier. A new political power is on the rise, Babylon. Soon Assyria will collapse and Babylon will rule the known world. All the true prophets recognize the danger facing Israel.
Unfortunately Israel has descended into paganism again. Manasseh brought about the moral and spiritual downfall of the nation of Judah. After Manasseh, Josiah became king of Judah. Under his rule the Torah was rediscovered in the back rooms of the Temple in Jerusalem. When he read the books his heart was turned fully to the Lord, and he brought about a great revival in the land. Unfortunately he died in a brief battle against Egypt, and veery quickly the people returned to their pagan ways. Now the die is cast, and Judah will be invaded and conquered by the rising Babylon kingdom. Habakkuk sees what is about to happen and his book is primarily a dialog between Habakkuk and Yahweh about the condition of Judah and the impending doom.
To understand the condition of Judah we need to look briefly into the book of Jeremiah. Here we see how far the people and the leadership have fallen away from Yahweh.
Jeremiah 2:5-8 Thus says the LORD:
“What wrong did your fathers find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?
They did not say, ‘Where is the LORD
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that none passes through,
where no man dwells?’
And I brought you into a plentiful land
to enjoy its fruits and its good things.
But when you came in, you defiled my land
and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the shepherds transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal
and went after things that do not profit.
Jeremiah 2:12-13 12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the LORD,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Jeremiah 3:1-3 Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,
look and take note!
Search her squares to see
if you can find a man,
one who does justice
and seeks truth,
that I may pardon her.
Though they say, “As the LORD lives,”
yet they swear falsely.
O LORD, do not your eyes look for truth?
You have struck them down,
but they felt no anguish;
you have consumed them,
but they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
they have refused to repent.
Jeremiah 5:30-31 30 An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely,
and the priests rule at their direction;
my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes?
Jeremiah 6:13-15 “For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
No, they were not at all ashamed;
they did not know how to blush.
1:1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.
An oracle can be an utterance by a priest or authoritative person of a divine communication. Or it can be a divine revelation directly. How did Habakkuk see an oracle? He may have experienced an theophany. However, I think what he saw was his observation of the nation of Judah with his interpreting of current events outside of Israel. He could see what was going on in the country the same way Jeremiah saw. This seeing needed illumination by God, himself. This is how we can see (understand) the scriptures. The teachings are hidden from us until the Holy Spirit opens our eyes.
On the world scene Assyria was beginning to decay as a nation. There is intrigue in the palace. Sythians and other nations to the north are challenging its borders. The new rising power of Babylon will soon attack and capture Nineveh. Habakkuk can surmise that Babylon will be the next nation to invade Israel and Egypt.
Habakkuk’s First Complaint
1:2-4 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
Habakkuk sees a sinful and decadent society. Crime and violence are growing. The Law is disregarded. The DOJ is corrupt to the core. The faithful few are opposed by the general populous. He asks God why he is not addressing this situation.
The Lord's Answer
1:5-11 “Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
to seize dwellings not their own.
They are dreaded and fearsome;
their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
Their horses are swifter than leopards,
more fierce than the evening wolves;
their horsemen press proudly on.
Their horsemen come from afar;
they fly like an eagle swift to devour.
They all come for violence,
all their faces forward.
They gather captives like sand.
At kings they scoff,
and at rulers they laugh.
They laugh at every fortress,
for they pile up earth and take it.
Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,
guilty men, whose own might is their god!”
God answers Habakkuk with a prophesy of an attack by a foreign nation rather than a word of comfort. Habakkuk sees the problem. God is going to address it with violence and destruction, not with grace. A dreadful and fearsome nation will soon descend on Judah. Jerusalem will not be able to withstand the assault. There will be a scorched earth policy. It will be a godless nation who's only god is its great strength. I have attached a description of the Assyrian type of warfare below. This sounds as severe if not more so.
Jeremiah keeps trying to warn the people of what was soon to happen. However, there were prophets in Judah that preached a totally different message. The people had to decide whom to believe. This is God’s take on the issue.
Jeremiah 14:13-16 Then I said: “Ah, Lord GOD, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’” And the LORD said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.
Jeremiah 15:1-4 Then the LORD said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD:
“‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence,
and those who are for the sword, to the sword;
those who are for famine, to famine,
and those who are for captivity, to captivity.’
I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, declares the LORD: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. And I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.
Jeremiah 16:10-13 10 “And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the LORD pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’
Next the prophet Hananiah confronts Jeremiah. This takes place around 609 BC. The Babylonians had made a brief incursion into Judah and carried off some of the temple treasures and about 10,000 people. Daniel was among the young men of royal lineage that were taken to Babylon.
Jeremiah 28:1-4 In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fifth month of the fourth year, Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the LORD, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD's house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, declares the LORD, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”
Jeremiah 28:15-17 And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the LORD has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the LORD.’”
In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died.
Habakkuk's Second Complaint
1:12-17 Are you not from everlasting,
O LORD my God, my Holy One?
We shall not die.
O LORD, you have ordained them as a judgment,
and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
the man more righteous than he?
You make mankind like the fish of the sea,
like crawling things that have no ruler.
He brings all of them up with a hook;
he drags them out with his net;
he gathers them in his dragnet;
so he rejoices and is glad.
Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and makes offerings to his dragnet;
for by them he lives in luxury,
and his food is rich.
Is he then to keep on emptying his net
and mercilessly killing nations forever?
In his first complaint Habakkuk acknowledged the faults of his people. They were certainly in opposition to God in their lives and thoughts. Now he questions God himself. How can a good and just, an immortal and holy God allow his people to stray so far? How can God remain silent at a time like this? And how can God use a nation far more pagan and evil than Israel to punish his chosen people? His people will be dragged out of the sea like fish in a net.
2:1 I will take my stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
Habakkuk will climb up on a watch tower, a place of solitude, while he awaits God’s response. Ezekiel was made a watchman for the exiles in Babylon.
Ezekiel 3:16-18 And at the end of seven days, the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.
Yahweh’s Second Response
The Righteous Shall Live by His Faith
2:2-5 And the LORD answered me:
“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
“Moreover, wine is a traitor,
an arrogant man who is never at rest.
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
like death he has never enough.
He gathers for himself all nations
and collects as his own all peoples.”
This is the most important passage in Habakkuk. God tells Habakkuk to write down his response. He wants it to be plain so everyone who can read can see it. The Apostle Paul quotes it in Romans 1 and Galatians 3. It formed the foundation of Martin Luther’s theology in the Reformation. From here we get the doctrine of salvation by faith in Christ.
Hebrews 10:37-39 For, “Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
However, Habakkuk needs to wait patiently for God’s timing. We cannot rush God into action. His timing is and will be perfect. Jesus told this to his disciples when they asked when he would return to set up his kingdom (Matthew 24).
Woe to the Chaldeans
The first woe
2:6-8 Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
for how long?—and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
and those awake who will make you tremble?
Then you will be spoil for them.
Because you have plundered many nations,
all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who dwell in them.
The second woe
2:9-11 “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,
and the beam from the woodwork respond.
The third woe
2:12-14 “Woe to him who builds a town with blood
and founds a city on iniquity!
Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts
that peoples labor merely for fire,
and nations weary themselves for nothing?
For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
The fourth woe
2:15-17 “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—
you pour out your wrath and make them drunk,
in order to gaze at their nakedness!
You will have your fill of shame instead of glory.
Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision!
The cup in the LORD's right hand
will come around to you,
and utter shame will come upon your glory!
The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them,
for the blood of man and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who dwell in them.
The fifth woe
2:18-20 “What profit is an idol
when its maker has shaped it,
a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in his own creation
when he makes speechless idols!
Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
to a silent stone, Arise!
Can this teach?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
and there is no breath at all in it.
But the LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.”
3:1-19 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.
O LORD, I have heard the report of you,
and your work, O LORD, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy.
God came from Teman,
and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His splendor covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise.
His brightness was like the light;
rays flashed from his hand;
and there he veiled his power.
Before him went pestilence,
and plague followed at his heels.
He stood and measured the earth;
he looked and shook the nations;
then the eternal mountains were scattered;
the everlasting hills sank low.
His were the everlasting ways.
I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;
the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.
Was your wrath against the rivers, O LORD?
Was your anger against the rivers,
or your indignation against the sea,
when you rode on your horses,
on your chariot of salvation?
You stripped the sheath from your bow,
calling for many arrows. Selah
You split the earth with rivers.
The mountains saw you and writhed;
the raging waters swept on;
the deep gave forth its voice;
it lifted its hands on high.
The sun and moon stood still in their place
at the light of your arrows as they sped,
at the flash of your glittering spear.
You marched through the earth in fury;
you threshed the nations in anger.
You went out for the salvation of your people,
for the salvation of your anointed.
You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,
laying him bare from thigh to neck. Selah
You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors,
who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,
rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
the surging of mighty waters.
The Response of Faith
I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.
Habakkuk Rejoices in the Lord
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
Bel and the Dragon
1:31-40 They threw Daniel into the lions' den, and he was there for six days.
There were seven lions in the den, and every day they had been given two human bodies and two sheep; but these were not given to them now, so that they might devour Daniel.
Now the prophet Habakkuk was in Judea. He had boiled pottage and had broken bread into a bowl, and was going into the field to take it to the reapers.
But the angel of the Lord said to Habakkuk, "Take the dinner which you have to Babylon, to Daniel, in the lions' den."
Habakkuk said, "Sir, I have never seen Babylon, and I know nothing about the den."
Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown of his head, and lifted him by his hair and set him down in Babylon, right over the den, with the rushing sound of the wind itself.
Then Habakkuk shouted, "Daniel, Daniel! Take the dinner which God has sent you."
And Daniel said, "Thou hast remembered me, O God, and hast not forsaken those who love thee."
So Daniel arose and ate. And the angel of God immediately returned Habakkuk to his own place.
On the seventh day the king came to mourn for Daniel. When he came to the den he looked in, and there sat Daniel.
And by 7th century BC, the emergent Scythians audaciously went into war with the sole superpower of the Mesopotamian region – Assyria. Now while Assyrian sources mostly keep mum about some of the presumed Scythian victories over them, it is known that one particular Assyrian monarch Esarhaddon was so desperate to secure peace with these Eurasian nomads that he even offered his daughter in marriage to the Scythian king Partatua. This however didn’t stop the Scythians from ravaging the coastal parts of Middle East, until they reached Palestine and even the borders of Ancient Egypt. Consequently they were bribed with rich tributes by the pharaoh – and on their returning route, some remnants of the Scythian army allied with a Median force to finally lay siege to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh in 612 BC, thus paving the way for the downfall of the superpower. As for the effect on the populace of the Middle East, a biblical prophet summed up the baleful nature of the ferocious ‘horse lords’ from north –
They are always courageous, and their quivers are like open grave. They will eat your harvest and bread, they will eat your sons and daughters, they will eat your sheep and oxen, they will eat your grapes and figs.
The Hittites had learned to forge iron in the 18th century B.C. As Assyrians had at times been vassals to the Hittites, they learned to make iron tools themselves. The great Assyrian armies of the Neo-Assyrian empire used iron weapons, giving them a great advantage over their enemies. They also used metal to cover the wheels of their formidable chariots, starting with bronze but moving later to iron.
Assyrians were not the first to use chariots in warfare, but they used both light and heavy chariots to break up their enemies’ infantry. The chariots had blades on the hub of their wheels, which effectively mowed down enemy infantry.
The Assyrians were the first to have a permanent corps of engineers in their army who would make siege engines, ladders and battering rams for attacking cities. This corps included miners and sappers to go under the walls if they couldn’t knock them down.
Besides charioteers, the Assyrians employed mounted cavalry in battle that carried both bows and arrows and lances. They were also the first to use camels for carrying heavy loads. Camels can carry far more weight than donkeys and didn’t need as much watering.
They were as adept at siege warfare as they were on the battlefield. The Assyrians employed psychological warfare in the form of sheer terror. If a city didn’t surrender, they would impale captives on poles before the gates of the city, torturing and killing them in plain sight of the city’s defenders. The Assyrians had found that many cities would simply surrender if the people were terrified. They also used mass deportations to keep conquered enemies from developing resistance to Assyrian rule.
From their continual warfare, the Assyrians captured riches upon riches. They demanded tribute from each conquered city, which was paid in precious metals, gems, silk, ivory and slaves. With this wealth, the Assyrians built grand palaces of stone in Ashur and Nineveh. They also demanded contingents of military men from each conquered city and region, which would then be incorporated into the Assyrian army. The Assyrians were rightly feared as the most bloodthirsty, cruel empire of the time.