J. B. Hewitt, Chesterfield
Nothing is known of Habakkuk apart from this book. From the fact that he makes no mention of Assyria, and speaks of the Chaldean power as growing with almost incredible rapidity, it is concluded that he prophesied in Judah during the reign of Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim shortly before the invasion by Nebuchadnezzar, 1. 5-6; 2. 3; 3. 2, 16. In this case the background of the book extends over a period from 625 to 605 or even to 597 B.C.
Period. He was in all probability a contemporary of Jeremiah. Both prophets are alike in respect of their emphasis on personal fellowship with God. When Habakkuk delivered his message, the condition of things calling for reformation still existed; read 2 Kings 21 to 24 and 2 Chron. 34 to 36.
Name. The prophet’s name means “embracing” or “wrestler” and occurs in other portions of the Word (e.g., Gen. 29. 13; 33. 4; 48. 10; 2 Kings 4. 16). “He embraced the people in his arms, he comforts them and lifts them up, as one embraces a weeping child to quiet it, with the assurance that, if God will, it shall be better soon”, Luther.
The book is built up around the meaning of his name. He “embraced” his God in prayer for he was perplexed, 1. 4, 12-15, he “embraced” God by faith for he expected a solution to his problems, 2. 1-4, 14, 20, and he “embraced” God with songs of victory as he anticipated the glorious triumph of God over all evil, 3. 1-19.
Purpose. In this book we have a man of faith asking questions and receiving answers. He wrote to encourage those who truly believed and trusted God. His message informed them and us that Jehovah had not changed, but that since Judah had sinned by turning aside to idols, God would use the Chaldeans as His sword to execute judgment upon the guilty people. The book opens in mystery and questioning whilst it closes in certainty and affirmation.
Its spiritual values. This book excels in wonderful and awe-inspiring descriptions of the majesty of God. Habakkuk has been called the “free-thinker among the prophets” and the “doubting Thomas” of the Old Testament. Yet he was the “Grandfather of the Reformation”, because the great doctrine of justification by faith Paul found had been anticipated and confirmed by Habakkuk, 2. 4, and Luther learned it from Paul. Habakkuk aired his doubts and difficulties concerning the rightness of the moral government of God. He makes a confidant of his best and truest friend and being one of the Levitical choristers he moulds the third chapter of his book in the form of a Psalm (note the three occurrences of the word “Selah”).
Message. The keynote of the book is contained in the phrase “the just shall live by his faith” or “in his faithfulness”, 2. 4 R.V. marg. Three great New Testament books take up this phrase and through their different emphases unfold something of the wealth expressed in it. In Galatians the word “faith” is underlined, 3. 11, as that which distinguishes true Christianity from mere law-keeping. In Romans where the question “how can man be just with God” is fully answered, the apostle places the stress on the word “just” in the quotation from Habakkuk, Rom. 1. 17. In Hebrews, the writer addresses those who had started on the Christian pathway by faith but who were forgetting the former days. To such he emphasises the word “live” in the quotation, 10. 38, to press home the salutary lesson of continuing in the Christian life by faith. In his “Song of Ascents” the prophet passes from trouble, ch. 1, through trust, ch. 2, to triumph, ch. 3.
- His perplexity. The trial of faith, ch. 1.
- The Sins of God’s People, 1-4. Why is God so deaf? His burden, 1; His problem, 2; Divine indolence, 2; Iniquity and insurrection, 3-4; Divine indifference, 3-4.
- The Strangeness of God’s Way, 5-11. History under divine control, 5-6; Invasion by a dreadful foe, 7-11.
- The Strength of God’s Character, 12-17. Appeal to the majesty of Jehovah, 12a; Apprehension of the purpose of Jehovah, 12b; Anxiety about the government of Jehovah, 13; Awareness of the wickedness of nations, 14-17.
- His patience. The trust of faith, ch. 2.
- The Attitude, waiting, 1.
- The Answer, write the message, 2-4.
- The Announcement, woes on the Chaldeans, 5-19.
- The Anticipation, Jehovah reigneth, 20.
- His prayer and praise. The triumph of faith, ch. 3.
- His Petition. For remembrance and revival, 1-2.
- His Praise of Jehovah, 3-15. Poem about divine glory, 3-6; Divine government, 7-11; Divine goings, 12-15.
- His Peace in Jehovah, 16-18. Fear and trembling, 16; Faith amid trouble, 17; Final triumph and joy, 18.
- His Power in Jehovah, 19. Faith makes him sing, 18; Faith makes him strong, 19; Faith makes him swift, sure, 19.
Suggestions for Study
- Collect and meditate on the beautiful texts in the book, e.g, 1. 12-13; 2. 14, 20; 3. 18-19.
- Discover why we might appropriately entitle chapter one as “The wailing chapter”, chapter two as “The waiting chapter” and chapter three as “The worshipping chapter”.
- Find verses which present this man of God as a seer and scholar in chapter 1, as a watchman and preacher in chapter 2, as an intercessor, poet, singer and saint in chapter three.
- Trace the attributes of Jehovah in the book.
- Carefully and prayerfully weigh the message of 3. 17-19. Remember we too walk by faith and not by sight, 2 Cor. 4. 16-18.
Message for today. The book declares and demonstrates the consistency of the character of God in view of permitted evil. We may rest here having unshaken confidence in God when all around us fails.