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An Introduction to the Book of Habakkuk

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I. TITLE:

A. Hebrew: In Hebrew the book is titled qyqbj after the name of the prophet. It probably comes from the verb qbj meaning “to fold one’s hands” or “to embrace.” Perhaps the significance is that Habakkuk embraced God and his people. A meaning is uncertain.

B. Greek: In Greek the book is titled AMBAKOUM

II. AUTHOR:

A. The author’s name was Habakkuk (1:1)

B. He was a prophet (1:1)

C. The subscription at the end of chapter three may indicate that this was to be part of the liturgical singing done at the Temple

D. The apocryphal work of Bel and the Dragon says, “Habakkuk, the son of Joshua of the tribe of Levi”

E. Rabbinic tradition has identified Habakkuk as the son of the Shunammite woman (based on the term “embrace,” 2 Ki 4:16)1

F. Habakkuk does not have a history of canonical dispute2

III. DATE:3 Late Seventh Century B.C. (c. 626 to 605 B.C.)

A. Habakkuk 1:6 announces the Lord’s intent to raise up the Chaldeans (neo-Babylonians) to judge Judah; this would have begun with Babylon’s defeat of Egypt and Assyria at Carchemish in 605 B.C. and its subsequent entrance into Palestine (cf. Dan 1:1-2). The prophecy of Habakkuk seems to precede this event

B. Habakkuk seems to assume that the Babylonians have already established a reputation by the time of his writing (cf. 1:6-11, 15-17; 2:5-17); this would have occurred after the battle of Carchemish; this may support a date of 605 for the writing of Habakkuk
Commenting on this possibility Chisholm writes, “However, if Habakkuk prophesied while the Babylonians were actually marching toward Judah, one wonders why the announcement of Judah’s downfall at their hands would have been so unbelievable to his audience (1:5). Also, could the Babylonians have developed the reputation described in chapters 1--2 in such a short period of time? Perhaps the description of Babylonian imperialism is largely proleptic, anticipating, on the basis of tendencies already revealed, how the Chaldeans would treat others as they further expanded their empire. One should note that the series of woe oracles in 2:6-20, which include the most specific references to Babylonian imperialism in the book, are delivered primarily from the perspective of Babylon’s future demise ....”4

C. Therefore, it may be best to date the book of Habakkuk anywhere from the rise of neo-Babylonia (through Nabopolassar) over Assyria in 626 B.C. to the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C.

IV. HISTORICAL SETTING:5

A. Josiah brought about the final spiritual revival for Judah when he came to the throne in 622 B.C.

B. The Assyrian Empire Fell

1. The Assyrian power rose with Ashurnasirpal II (884-859 B.C.) and Shalmaneser II (859-824 B.C.)

2. Tiglath-pileser III (Pul in the Scriptures) began a group of conquerors who took Syria and Palestine including Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C. who began the deportation of Samaria), Sargon II (722-705 B.C. who completed the deportation of Samaria), Sennacherib (704-581 B.C. who attacked king of Judah, Hezekiah [Josiah’s father]), and Esarhaddon (681-669 B.C. who led campaigns against Egypt)

3. Esarhaddon’s son, Ashurbanipal (669-631) ruled much of the upper Egyptian city of Thebes, but his decline and that of Assyria’s soon followed

4. Nineveh, the capital, was destroyed in 612 B.C.

5. Assyria’s army was defeated in 609 B.C. at Haran

6. What was left of Assyria’s army went to Carchemish (just west of the Euphrates River and north of Aram)

C. The Neo-Babylonian Empire Arose

1. Merodach Baladan was a Chaldean and father of Nabopolassar and grandfather of Nebuchadnezzar. Merodach Baladan sent ambassadors to Hezekiah (Isa 39; 2 Ki 20:12-19)

2. In October 626 B.C. Nabopolassar defeated the Assyrians outside of Babylon

3. In 616 B.C. Nabopolassar expanded his kingdom, and in 612 B.C. he joined with the Medes and destroyed Nineveh

D. A Realignment of Power in 609 B.C. and later

1. Judah: When Assyria fell and Babylon arose Judah, under Josiah, removed itself from Assyria’s control and existed as an autonomous state until 609 B.C. when it lost a battle with Egypt on the plain of Megiddo

2. Egypt:

a. Attempted to expand its presence into Palestine with Assyria’s troubles

b. Egypt joined with Assyria to fight the Babylonians at Haran

1) Judah tried to stop Egypt’s (Pharaoh Neco II) alliance but was defeated on the plain of Megiddo with the loss of their king, Josiah (cf. 2 Chron 35:20-24)

2) The Assyrians lost their battle with Babylon (even with the help of Egypt) and disappeared as a power in the world, and Egypt retreated to Carchemish as the dividing line between Egypt and Babylonian

3) Egypt ruled Judah:

a) Egypt (Necho) replaced Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, after three months with Jehoiakim (who was another son of Josiah) as a vassal king (2 Ki 23:34-35)

b) Egypt (Necho) plundered Judah’s treasuries

c) Egypt (Necho) took Jehoahaz into captivity in Egypt

E. In 605 B.C. other changes of power occurred:

1. Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish

2. Judah’s king, Jehoiakim, changed his loyalty to the Babylonians rather than the Egyptians and became Nebuchadnezzar’s vassal king (2 Ki. 24:1)

3. Nebuchadnezzar had to return to Babylon with the death of his father, Nebopolassar

4. Nebuchadnezzar solidified his rule by appointing vassal kings and taking hostages; Daniel was taken as a part of this deportation (Dan 1:1-6)

V. RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER PROPHETS:

Habakkuk is one of three prophets who have prophesies against other nations:

A. Nahum--against Assyria

B. Habakkuk--against Babylon

C. Obadiah--against Edom
These three countries/empires afflicted God’s people throughout their history

VI. UNITY OF THE TEXT

A. There is some questions about the place of the psalm in chapter three as a genuine part of Habakkuk--especially since it is not included in the Qumran commentary on the book found in Cave I in 1948.

B. However there is support for considering chapter three as part of the book of Habakkuk:

1. The heading of 3:1 identifies Habakkuk as its author

2. There are verbal, thematic, and structural parallels which unite chapter 3 with chapters 1--26

3. The pattern of “divine revelation and prophetic response is consistent with the rest of the book”7

4. The presence of musical notations identify the psalm as a unit, but does not require that one conclude that it was not a part of chapters 1--2

5. There are plausible answers to the Qumran commentary:

a. There may have been an alternate recension of Habakkuk which did not include chapter 3

b. Early textual witnesses for the book of Habakkuk include chapter three (LXX, copies of The Book of the Twelve [c. 200 B.C.])

c. They commentators of Habakkuk may have not gotten to chapter three8

d. The absence of chapter three may stem from sectarian motives (e.g. chapters 1--2 fit their purposes better than chapter 3)9

VII. PURPOSES:

A. To proclaim that Yahweh, Judah’s sovereign warrior, will appropriately judge the evil of Judah by bringing the Babylonians against them

B. To proclaim that Yahweh, as the protector of His people, will sustain those who trust in Him

C. To proclaim that Yahweh, as the protector of His people, will deliver Israel from the Babylonians some day

D. To proclaim that Yahweh, as Judah’s sovereign warrior, will one day judge the unjust Babylonians


1 J. Ron Blue, Habakkuk, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: Old Testament, 1506.

2 See Carl E. Armerding, Habakkuk, in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, VII:496.

3 Much of this information comes from Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., Interpreting the Minor Prophets, 183-84.

4 Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., Interpreting the Minor Prophets, 184-85.

5 This was adapted from Charles H. Dyer, Jeremiah, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: Old Testament, 1125-27, and Homer Heater, Jr., Notes on the Book of Jeremiah, unpublished class notes in seminar in the preexilic Old Testament prophets (Dallas Theological Seminary, Fall 1990), 101-105.

Ron Blue's setting for the book is relevant: Habakkuk wrote in a time of international crisis and national corruption. Babylonia had just emerged as a world power. When the Babylonians rebelled against Assyria, Judah found a brief period of relief reflected in the reforms initiated by Josiah. The Assyrians were forced to devote their energies to stop the Babylonian rebellion. The Babylonians finally crushed the Assyrian empire and quickly proceeded to defeat the once-powerful Egyptians. A new world empire was stretching across the world. Soon the Babylonians would overtake Judah and carry its inhabitants away into captivity. On the eve of pending destruction, a period of uncertainty and fear, Habakkuk wrote his message.

The crisis internationally was serious. But of even greater concern was the national corruption. Great unrest stirred within Judah. Josiah had been a good king. When he died, Josiah's son Jehoahaz rose to the throne. In only three months, the king of Egypt invaded Judah, deposed Jehoahaz and placed his brother Jehoiakim on the throne. Jehoiakim was evil, ungodly, and rebellious (2 Kings 23:36--24:7; 2 Chron. 36:5-8). Shortly after Jehoiakim ascended to power, Habakkuk wrote his lament over the decay, violence, greed, fighting, and perverted justice that surrounded him.

No wonder Habakkuk looked at all the corruption and asked, 'Why doesn't God do something?' Godly men and women continue to ask similar 'whys' in a world of increasing international crises and internal corruption. Nation rises up against nation and around the world and sin abounds at home. World powers aim an ever-increasing array of complex nuclear weapons at each other while they talk of peace. World War III seems incredibly imminent.

While the stage is set for a global holocaust, an unsuspecting home audience fiddles a happy tune. The nation's moral fiber is being eaten away by a playboy philosophy that makes personal pleasure the supreme rule of life. Hedonism catches fire while homes crumble. Crime soars while the church sours. Drugs, divorce, and debauchery prevail and decency dies. Frivolity dances in the streets. Faith is buried. 'In God We Trust' has become a meaningless slogan stamped on corroding coins.

In such a world of crisis and chaos, Habakkuk speaks with clarity. This little book is as contemporary as the morning newspaper (J. Ron Blue, Habakkuk, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: Old Testament, 1507-1507).

6 Carl E. Armerding, Habakkuk, in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, VII:522.

7 Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., Interpreting the Minor Prophets, 184.

8 Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 365.

9 Ralph L. Smith, Micah-Malachi, Word Biblical Commentary, XXXII:95.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines