Habakkuk - Introduction
The book of Habakkuk, eighth in order among the twelve Minor Prophets, can be dated to the late seventh century BCE on the basis of the reference to the Chaldeans ( 1.6 ), also known as the (Neo‐) Babylonians, whose domination of the Near East began around 612. Such a date makes the book roughly contemporaneous with Nahum, which precedes it, and Zephaniah, which follows it.
Although a legend about Habakkuk appears in one of the additions to Daniel found in the Apocrypha (Bel 33–39 ), nothing is known about the life of the prophet, not even his father's name or his hometown. The book reflects the struggles of the Judahite community in the time between the death of King Josiah in 609 and the first deportation of exiles to Babylon in 597 (see 2 Kings 23.34–24.27 ).
At least three distinct literary forms can be recognized in Habakkuk. The first section ( 1.2–2.4 ) is constructed as a dialogue between the prophet and God; the next ( 2.5–20 ), consisting of five woes, is cast in classical prophetic style; and ch 3 is a lengthy poem, similar in structure to the Psalms.
Despite their varied texture, the sections build on each other. In the opening dialogue, the prophet first laments the injustice of his society ( 1.2–4 ). The divine response is that the Chaldeans will serve as the instrument of judgment ( 1.5–11 ). The prophet questions the justice of this: “the wicked swallow those more righteous than they” ( 1.13 ). The LORD answers by urging the prophet to wait, faithfully, for an appointed time; this injustice will also be addressed ( 2.2–4 ). The next section ( 2.5–20 ) is cast as the taunts addressed to Babylon by the very nations it had oppressed, once the cycle of divine judgment runs its full course (“The cup in the LORD's right hand will come around to you,” 2.16 ). The final section, the song of Habakkuk ( 3.2–15 ), commemorates ancient triumphs of this God who comes in judgment. This psalm serves as the basis of the prophet's resilient hope in the face of calamity and deprivation ( 3.17–19 ) and also can be seen as a prayer ( 3.1 ) to arouse God to action ( 3.2 ).
Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah, who also contended that an invading foreign power would serve as the divine instrument of judgment against Judah (compare Hab 1.6–11 with Jer 4.13; 5.15–17; 6.22–23 ), and furthermore that, in time, Babylon itself would come under divine judgment (Jer 50–51 ). At the same time, Habakkuk articulates on behalf of his community their searching question: Is this fair? To this perennial question the prophet receives an answer that is eternally valid: God is still sovereign, and in his own way and at the proper time he will deal with the wicked. In the meantime—in fact, at all times—the righteous shall live by their faith ( 2.4 ), a persistent, patient, and tenacious adherence to the instructions and promises of God.