Welcome to our Bible Study Series on the Minor Prophets.
This is – Habakkuk, Faith & Doubt:
Click on the link above for the study session. Find the notes below.
Habakkuk, Faith & Doubt:
- The prophet Habakkuk ministered during the death throes of the nation of Judah. Now if we refer back to Nahum, before the fall of Assyria and the rise of Babylon. God used Assyria to punish Israel (722); now God would use Babylon to punish Assyria and Judah. This prophecy would be fulfilled several decades after Habakkuk, in 586.
- Therefore, we have a “theme question” of Habakkuk, that is, how can God use a wicked nation such as Babylon for His divine purpose? God judges all nations, said Habakkuk, and even Babylon would eventually be judged (Babylon fell to Persia in 539). Though God’s ways are sometimes mysterious, “the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4) while awaiting salvation. These words are quoted three times in the New Testament (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38).
1. Habakkuk’s Setting:
- Habakkuk is told by God that the Babylonians will be His rod on the nations. So Habakkuk acknowledges that the just in any generation shall live by faith (2:4), not by sight, and he concludes by praising God’s wisdom even though he doesn’t fully understand God’s ways.
- It is a great word, but nothing is known about Habakkuk except what might be inferred from his book. The meaning of his name is not known, and there is no wordplay in the book to suggest that it has symbolic significance.
- Although the book of Habakkuk includes no reference to the reign of a king, internal evidence indicates a date between the death of King Josiah (609 BC) and the beginning of the Babylonian captivity (605 BC). The only explicit time references in Habakkuk are to the Babylonian invasion as an imminent event (1:6; 2:1; 3:16).
- Now as a contemporary of Zephaniah and Jeremiah, Habakkuk warned of God’s approaching judgment through the approaching Babylonians. This prophecy was fulfilled in 605 BC when Nebuchadnezzar deported ten thousand of Jerusalem’s prominent citizens to Babylon. So Habakkuk repeatedly called them to repentance, but the nation stubbornly refused to change her sinful ways.
- So Judah had witnessed the downfall and exile of her northern sister Israel slightly more than a century previously. She herself had not learnt, however, that repeated violation of the covenant with God on her own part would not be left unpunished forever. She would now, according to the prophet, be faced with a similar fate herself.
- The prophecy anticipates the Babylonian’s defeat, which finally took place before the combined power of the Indo-Aryan Medes and Persians who, under Cyrus, captured Babylon in 539 BC.
2. Habakkuk’s Purpose:
- Now the book of Habakkuk may be conveniently divided into two portions: the problems of Habakkuk (1-2), and the praise of Habakkuk (3). Realizing Israel’s iniquity and need for punishment, Habakkuk is perplexed with the moral dilemma of how a holy God could employ the even more wicked Babylonians to chastise His children.
- God’s response is twofold: 1) He reaffirms His basic moral nature which implies that everyone must eventually face judgment for their offences (2:2–20). 2) God also gives Habakkuk a vision of His infinite glory. Therefore these two responses are enough to re-establish Habakkuk’s faith in God.
- The book of Habakkuk also depicts the prophet’s struggle of faith, and in so doing the centrality of faith in the lives of God’s people is highlighted. This faith which can endure despite unfavourable outward circumstances comes to beautiful expression in 3:16–19.
- Habakkuk struggled in his faith when he saw how men blatantly violate God’s law and distort justice on every level without fear of divine intervention. He wanted to know why God was allowing growing iniquity to go unpunished. When God revealed His intentions to use Babylon as His rod of judgement, Habakkuk was even more troubled, because that nation was more corrupt than Judah.
- Look at 2:2-20, God’s answer here satisfied Habakkuk that and he could trust Him even in the worst of circumstances because of His matchless wisdom, goodness, and power. God’s plan is perfect and nothing is big
enough to stand in the way of its ultimate fulfilment.
- So as Habakkuk grapples with these difficulties which are solved in the light of God’s continuing revelation, and the prophet closes in a psalm of joyous trust. The book is thus serves as a defence of God’s goodness and power in view of the problem of evil.
3. Habakkuk’s Message:
- The role of a prophet was to bring the nation and its leaders back to obedience to the covenant which God had made with his people at Sinai. If covenant obligations were neglected or abandoned, the prophet, often at some personal threat, would confront the wrongdoers and demand repentance in the name of Yahweh.
- In the case of Habakkuk, and with even greater personal risk, the prophet confronts Yahweh Himself. In this case it is not a call for help for the nation, but a call for judgment upon those who sin (1:2–4).
- These wicked ones have been variously identified (see pp. 44–45), but apparently are Judeans who have abandoned God’s laws. As Israel cannot with impunity break her covenant, neither may Yahweh allow his covenant to be broken without reacting.
- Now because God seems to be acting against His just and righteous character by not taking action (v. 2), he is brought to task by the prophet. This questioning of God as to whether he is indeed in control of the world is similar to that of Job. He too was faced by a situation where his ‘systematic theology’ of God did not correspond to his actual experience of God’s ways.
- Unlike Job, Habakkuk is given a direct answer (1:5–11): punishment will come, but through the instrumentality of the Babylonians. This raises yet further theological and moral problems for the prophet, since the ‘cure of a Babylonian invasion is worse than the ‘illness’ of Judean sin.
- The Babylonians were pagans and not worshippers of Yahweh at all, so how could God use them to punish his own people? Also their cruelty was proverbial and the punishment seemed to be greater than the crime could warrant (1:12–17).
- God answers by saying that his chosen instrument for Judah’s discipline is itself morally responsible for its actions and will not go without suitable punishment (2:2–20). Not only is this presented in a negative way, picturing judgment and death for the wrongdoer, but also in a positive message of life.
- In one of the Old Testament statements which has had a profound influence on the history of the church, Judah is told that wrongdoers will be punished for their deeds, but that ‘the just shall live by his faith’ (2:4, av). If Judah, or any of God’s covenant people, abides by the stipulations of God’s covenant, whether old or new, the One in whom they believe and whom they serve will see that they will live.
4. The Book’s Application:
- To all of this, Habakkuk responds to this promise of hope and judgment with a prayer of reverence and faith (ch. 3). He recalls Yahweh’s approach to his people at Sinai (vv. 3–7) and his power as the mighty warrior (vv. 8–15).
- In the light of these evidences of God’s being and power in the past, Habakkuk puts himself, in fearful but joyful submission, into the hands and care of the One who can and does provide even when all other means of support and sustenance fail (vv. 16–19).
- Habakkuk was a daring thinker who openly expressed his doubt to God. He was a man of integrity who was concerned with the character and program of Yahweh. Habakkuk’s unusually extended dialogue with God was initiated by the prophet. Normally, the prophetic process was begun by God. After receiving the divine oracle, Habakkuk transmitted it to the people of Judah. Both Jonah and Habakkuk faced severe tests of their faith.
- So where do we go with this? The word “salvation” appears three times (3:13, 18) and is the root word front which the name “Jesus” is derived (cf. Matt. 1:21). When He comes again, “the earth will be filled with
the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (2:14).
- What can we learn? The proper response of a believer to God when we don’t understand, like or agree with what He is doing is to trust and praise Him without reservation. More so:
- There is nothing wrong with sincerely asking God questions like, why?
- When we ask God we should patiently wait for His answer
- Sometimes we will be amazed at what God is doing in our world
- When God answers our questions we should accept them
- God measures the righteousness of people and nations against Himself and not each other
- The righteous man lives by His faith in the God of the Bible
- When we do not understand, like or agree with what God is doing we should still praise Him
- God is too pure and holy to look on sin with approval
- Grumbling and complaining about what and how God does what He does is sin and rebellion
- We should praise God that:
- He is holy
- He is just
- He knows what He is doing