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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Habakkuk - Introduction

Habakkuk is different from all the other prophetic books, in subject-matter and in its choice of forms of literature. It questions whether the earlier prophets' explanation of the disasters that befell Israel and Judah can be true: that YHWH has sent the armies of foreign nations to punish them for their crimes. The crimes of those armies are manifestly worse than those of Israel or Judah, so how can this be called God's just judgement?

The reference to the Chaldeans (the ruling class that established the Neo-Babylonian empire in the late 7th cent.; ABD i. 886–7) in 1:6 suggests that the book is a reaction to the approach of Nebuchadnezzar's army as it made its way through Syria and Phoenicia, and it shows no awareness of the fall of Jerusalem in 597 BCE, so may be dated in approximately 600 BCE. Jehoiakim was king of Judah (2 Kings 23:34–24:7; Jer 22:13–19 ) and it may have been the injustice of his reign that led to the complaints in Hab 1:2–4 , although some think the wicked in these verses are the foreign armies. For the history of the period, see Miller and Hayes (1986: 402–15). Neither the wicked in 1:4, 13; 2:4–19 nor the righteous in 1:4, 13; 2:4 are explicitly identified, and this has led to much debate over the date and setting of the book, but the fact that it speaks in general terms (Childs 1979: 447–55) may perhaps make it all the more valuable as an early contribution to the perennial question of theodicy (ABD vi. 444–7): whether God's justice can really be seen at work in the world.

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