Book Summaries

The 8th of the so-called Minor Prophets, written by the prophet whose name is its title. No serious challenge has been raised as to the authenticity of the book or its right to a place in the Sacred Canon. An ancient Hebrew commentary on the book of Habakkuk found among the Dead Sea scrolls at Khirbet Qumran in 1947 contains the Hebrew text of the 1st 2 chapters of the book, with many gaps, divided into short passages, each with accompanying comment. Though written approximately 1,000 years earlier than the oldest Hebrew text previously available, the 2 texts are practically identical, thus providing additional evidence of the reliability of the transmitting text of the OT. Interesting, but minor, variant readings occur in chs 1:12, 14, 17; 2:1, 5, 16.

After the great work of reform under the good King Hezekiah a century or so before Habakkuk's time, the kingdom of Judah lapsed once more into a state of apostasy that continued through the reigns of Manasseh and Amon and the 1st part of Josiah's reign. Apostasy consisted of idolatry, with its attendant evils, which was reflected in demoralised social and political conditions. Then Josiah in his 12th year (2 Chr. 34:3) "began to purge Judah and Jerusalem" from idolatry, and in his 18th year, prompted by the discovery of the book of the Law (2 Ki 22:8 ­12), and under the influence of the prophetess Huldah (v 14), the prophet Jeremiah (Jer 1:2) and possibly Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, Josiah instituted a series of reforms (2 Ki 23:1 ­25). Presumably, Habakkuk bore his recorded message prior to the time these reforms became effective, possibly during the latter part of the reign of Manasseh (ending in 642 b.c., the short reign of Amon (642 ­640), or the early years of Josiah's reign (640 ­609). With a reasonable degree of accuracy the book may be dated about 630 b.c. a few years before the fall of Assyria and the resurgence of Babylon under Nabopolasser and Nebuchadnezzar, and some 25 years before the 1st Babylonian captivity, in 605 b.c.

The great theme of the book of Habakkuk is that God is still in control of the affairs of earth, even though sin and violence make the opposite appear to be true, and that ultimately righteousness and justice will prevail. The brief prophecy answers the troublesome question as to why God permits sinners to flourish, in somewhat the same vein that Job explains why God sometimes permits saints to suffer. Habakkuk sincerely loved the Lord and longed earnestly for the triumph of righteousness and justice, but he could not understand why God let apostasy and oppression go unchecked and unpunished among His chosen people (Hab. 1:1 ­4). God answers the prophet's plaintive plea by assuring him that He is about to visit Judah for its sins and that the Chaldeans, "that bitter and hasty nation," are about to "march through the breadth of the land" as instruments of remedial justice (vs. 5 ­11). Staggering at the thought, Habakkuk asks in reply, "O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgement"? How could a just God permit "the wicked" to devour "the man that is more righteous than he?" (vs. 12 ­17). In all earnestness and innocence Habakkuk demands an answer to what seems to him an unanswerable question (ch 2:1). In reply, God patiently assures the rash prophet of the certainty of the Babylonian invasion, and then quietly rebukes him for his temerity (vs. 2 ­4). God outlines at length the sins of the Babylonians, by way of informing Habakkuk that He knows full well their evil ways (Hab. 2:5 ­19). Nevertheless, God is still in charge of human affairs, and it is appropriate that all the earth--including the prophet Habakkuk--"keep silence before him." None may question His wisdom and justice (v 20). Meek and repentant, Habakkuk acknowledges God's wisdom and justice, yet in earnest devotion to Judah as the chosen instrument of God's plan on earth, he enters a humble plea that "in wrath" God will "remember mercy" (ch 3:1, 2). The prayer-song of ch 3 consists of an ecstatic vision in which the prophet foresees the coming of the Lord in judgement upon the nations and for the salvation of His chosen people. At this righteous prospect the prophet rejoices and ascribes praise to God (vs. 3 ­19).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.