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Commentary on the Book of Habakkuk in the Holy Bible

Updated on November 4, 2015
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Katie has been a member of the LDS Church since her baptism at age 8. She graduated from Seminary, the Institute of Religion, and BYU.

Habakkuk: Trusting in the Lord

Faith and Trust in God are important concepts in Habakkuk
Faith and Trust in God are important concepts in Habakkuk | Source

Habakkuk and Habakkuk's Name

Habakkuk was one of the twelve "minor" prophets of the Old Testament. His name only appears in the Hebrew Bible twice. It appears once in Habakkuk 1:1 and again in Habakkuk 3:1. The Vulgate, the principal version of the bible in Latin, translates Habbakuk's name as Abacuc in Latin. The Septuagint, the principal version of the bible in Greek, translates the name to Ambakoum in Greek. Although the etymology of the name is unclear, it is possible that it is related to khabbaququ, the Akkadian name of a fragrant plant which means embrace.

A Russian Icon Depicting Habakkuk

An 18th century Russian icon of the Old Testament Prophet Habakkuk.
An 18th century Russian icon of the Old Testament Prophet Habakkuk.

The Historical Context of Habbakuk's Prophecy

Although little is explicitly stated about Habakkuk in the text, the Book of Habakkuk provides sufficient clues for the modern reader to pin down a fairly narrow window in which the book could have been written. The beginning of the first chapter makes it obvious that the Chaldeans are about to conquer the land to which Habakkuk was prophesying. The Chaldeans or Neo-Babylonians conquered the King dome of Judah, the home of the Jewish people in the 15 years after 600 BC. This suggests that Habakkuk was prophesying to the Jews about this time.

The Neo-Babylonian Empire came into power in 626 BC, a year or two after the death of Assurbanipal, leader of the Assyrian Empire. At the death of Assurbanipal, the Assyrian empire was strife with civil war. This spurred Babylonia’s rebellion which was led by Nabopolassar, a Chaldean by descent. With the Medes help, a group from ancient Iran, the Babylonians overthrew Ninevah, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, in 612 BC. Nabopolassar became the ruler of the new Babylonian empire. After this time, the Chaldeans were swallowed by and synonymous with the Babylonians of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

The first deportation of the Jews by the Babylonians was in 597 BC and the final fall of Jerusalem, the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, was in 587 BC. This suggests that Habakkuk wrote his Book between 598 BC and 610 BC. It also suggests that Habbakuk was contemporaries with Jeremiah and Zephaniah. This history also explains that the Chaldeans referred to in the first chapter of Habakkuk were synonymous with the Neo-Babylonians who overthrew the Kingdom of Judah.

The Book of Habakkuk

Faith is an important topic in the Book of Habakkuk.
Faith is an important topic in the Book of Habakkuk. | Source

What makes Habakkuk's prophecy unique among the writings of the Minor Prophets

The works of most Old Testament prophets depicts the prophet as contending with the people on behalf of the Lord. The Book of Habakkuk, however, records an instance in which the prophet is contending with the Lord. The use of the word burden suggests that Habakkuk had just seen a vision. The first two chapters are Habakkuk’s response to that vision, which he addresses to the Lord.

Habakkuk's lineage

The third chapter of the book of Habakkuk is a poem that praises the greatness of God. (We know this from terminology in verses 1, 3, 9 and 13, see the section entitled Chapter 3 for more information.)

The Levites were responsible for the music and liturgy used to teach in the temple, along with their other priestly and temple duties. This suggests Habakkuk may have been a Levite, the priestly tribe.

Listen to the Book of Habakkuk

Commentary on Habakkuk 1

Initially, Habakkuk has several questions for the Lord. They include:

A) “How long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! Even cry out unto thee of violence and thou wilt not save?

B) Why dost thou show me iniquity and cause me to behold grievance? For spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.”

The Lord responds that He will use the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation, to conquer the Kingdom of Judah.

As the Lord finishes his description of the Chaldean conquerors that are drawing ever nearer to Jerusalem temporally, He states that the Chaldeans will attribute their success to their Gods [idols]. Habakkuk responds by asking isn’t the Lord the supreme ruler? Habakkuk states that he knows the Lord has used the Chaldeans to punish the Jews for their unrighteousness, but then asks how the Lord can look upon their unrighteousness as the Lord can look upon no sin with the least degree of allowance. Habakkuk doesn’t understand how the Lord can use a wicked people to overcome a group that is more righteous than they.

The significance of horses

It is interesting to note that horses are mentioned in verse eight of the first chapter of Habakkuk. Riding horses in battle was a fairly new development at this time. Their inclusion confirms the adjectives of terrible and dreadful used to describe the Chaldean conquerors that are coming, as horses were one of the latest maritime technological developments.

Habakkuk on Faith

Habakkuk 2:3 teaches us about faith.
Habakkuk 2:3 teaches us about faith.

Commentary on Faith in Habakkuk 2

Habakkuk begins the second chapter by saying he will stand upon his tower as watchman for the people, awaiting his reproof from the Lord. The Lord responds by telling him to write the vision, which is for an appointed time in the future. The Lord also states that “the soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” This idea is restated in the Christian New Testament in the Epistle to the Romans 1:17; the Epistle to the Galatians 3:11; and the Epistle to the Hebrews 10:38.

Romans 1:17 (KJV)

"For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."

Galatians 3:11 (KJV)

But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

Hebrews 10:38 (KJV)

Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.

The rest of chapter two condemns sins such as pride, idolatry, idleness violence, selfishness, covetousness, drunkenness, lust. It also prophesizes that eventually the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord and reminds us that idols have no power. Finally, it finishes by commanding the people to reverence the Lord who is in His house, the temple.

Commentary on the Poetry of Chapter 3

The third chapter is a poem in which Habakkuk has recorded a prayer marveling at the majesty of God. The following notes may help the modern reader understand the text:

A) The first verse states the third chapter is “a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.” Shigionoth is a type of poetry.

B) The third verse states, “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah…” Selah, used again in verse 9 and 13, is an instruction to the conductor of a musical group. The exact translation has been lost to time.

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