Introduction to Habakkuk




The book of Habakkuk, one of the Minor Prophets, is unique in its style. Rather than speaking to the people on God’s behalf, Habakkuk spoke to God on behalf of the people. Habakkuk struggled with how to understand God’s actions in history, especially his use of an unrighteous nation as the instrument of his justice. God’s answer to Habakkuk’s objection was that “the righteous one will live by his faith” (2:4).

“The mountains see you and shudder; a downpour of water sweeps by. The deep roars with its voice and lifts its waves high”.

“The mountains see you and shudder; a downpour of water sweeps by. The deep roars with its voice and lifts its waves high” (3:10).


AUTHOR: Habakkuk is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. His name is thought to derive from the Hebrew word chabaq, “to embrace,” but its form appears non-Hebraic. More likely the name is related to habbaququ, a word found in the related Semitic language of Akkadian. It denotes a species of garden plant or fruit tree.

BACKGROUND: Habakkuk predicted the invasion of Judah by the Chaldeans (1:6). The term Chaldean (Hb kasdim; Akk kaldu) was originally used of an ethnic group that appeared in southern Babylonia in the ninth century BC. In the eighth century BC, Chaldeans began to rise to power in Babylon. Among the early Chaldean kings was Merodach-baladan II (2Kg 20:12; Is 39:1), who twice in the late eighth century took (and lost) Babylon’s throne. The Chaldean Nabopolassar (626-605 BC) began to dismantle the Assyrian Empire with help from the Medes and founded the Neo-Babylonian Empire. By the time of Habakkuk, “Chaldean” had come to be a synonym for “Babylonian.”

These world events came to affect Judah. Pharaoh Neco of Egypt passed through Palestine in an attempt to support the remnant of the Assyrians in northern Syria against Babylon. The godly King Josiah confronted him at Megiddo but was killed by Neco in 609 BC. Judah then fell into the hands of Egypt from 609-605 BC.

Judah’s fortunes changed again when Nabopolassar’s son Nebuchadnezzar II defeated Neco at the battle of Carchemish (May/June 605 BC) on the Euphrates River northeast of Aleppo and succeeded his father on the throne of Babylon in September of that year. The Babylonian army pursued Neco back to Egypt. Consequently Judah fell under the control of the Babylonians by 604 BC.

Habakkuk predicted the Chaldean devastation of Judah (1:5-11), but that does not seem to have been fulfilled by the relatively bloodless Babylonian occupation in 604 BC. But when Jehoiakim, whom Neco had placed on Judah’s throne in 609 BC, rebelled against Babylon in roughly 600 BC, Nebuchadnezzar eventually invaded the land and besieged Jerusalem from 598 to 597 BC. This led to Jehoiakim being deposed and killed in 598 BC and his son Jehoiachin going into Babylonian exile in 597 BC. The last king of Judah, Zedekiah, brought even more devastation upon Judah by rebelling against Babylon in 588 BC. When Judah fell to the Babylonians in August of either 587 or 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar devastated Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. And yet as Habakkuk predicted (2:6-20), Babylon had its own day of reckoning in 539 BC when Cyrus of Persia conquered it.

These historical events enable us to date the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk probably wrote his prophecy during the time of trouble after the death of King Josiah of Judah in 609 BC but before the devastations of Judah in 598/597 BC and 587/586 BC by the Chaldeans. That places the prophecy during the reign of Jehoiakim (ca 609-599 BC), probably in the period of Egyptian domination before Babylon invaded Judah (609-605 BC).


Like the book of Job, Habakkuk deals with the problem of understanding God’s ways: Why does God allow injustice to prevail (1:3)? How can God use the more wicked Babylonians to punish the less wicked Judeans (1:13)? How long will God allow evildoers to dominate the world (1:17)?

God did not give clear answers to the questions Habakkuk raised. Instead he called on the godly to have faith (2:4). When Habakkuk declared he would rejoice in God no matter what (3:17-19), he showed that he had accepted and appropriated this message to his own life.

GOD’S SOVEREIGN GREATNESS: Habakkuk shows the greatness of God. He is eternally alive (1:12), unlike dead idols of wood or stone (2:18-19). His prophecies come true (2:3). He can raise up nations to accomplish his purposes (1:6), and he shakes the world through pestilence and war (3:2-15).

GOD’S HIDDEN JUSTICE: Habakkuk’s God is holy (1:12). The prophet expected him to oppose injustice (1:2-4,13a), though sometimes it is hard to see the justice of God working through the events of human history (1:13b). But though God may use the wicked acts of men for his good purposes and allow evil to prevail for a time, ultimately the wicked will pay for their crimes (2:6-14) and God will come to save his people and crush the wicked (3:13-15).

FAITH: The key verse of Habakkuk is 2:4b: “The righteous one will live by his faith.” Though we find it difficult to fathom the ways of God with man, we can learn, as Habakkuk did, to trust and exult in God’s goodness despite our imperfect understanding (3:16-19).


The book of Habakkuk looks at an issue that often confronts people: trying to discern God’s purposes in the midst of this world. There is a realization of the will of God for this world. This truth is seen throughout the Scripture: God’s promises to Abraham; God’s desire for us to have life abundantly; and God’s will for a human community of joy, security, and righteousness. We ultimately triumph in the world and live abundantly only through faith. Habakkuk’s message that the righteous will live by faith prepared the way for the greater understanding of this truth in the NT, which emphasizes salvation through faith in Christ (Rm 1:17; Gl 3:11; Heb 10:38-39).


The first two chapters consist of a dialogue between the prophet and God. Habakkuk first complained of injustice in Judah (1:2-4). God responded by announcing that he was sending the Chaldeans to punish Judah (1:5-11). Habakkuk then complained about God’s answer, arguing that it seemed unfair for God to use the more wicked Babylonians to punish the less wicked Judeans (1:12-2:1). God responded that the Babylonians were indeed arrogant and would ultimately be punished; nonetheless, God would use the Babylonians just as he had determined (2:2-20). The final chapter consists of a psalm in which Habakkuk reflected on this dialogue with God.


I.Dialogue Between God and Habakkuk (1:1-2:20)

A.Habakkuk’s first complaint: injustice (1:1-4)

B.God’s first response: Chaldeans will invade (1:5-11)

C.Habakkuk’s second complaint: God seems unfair (1:12-2:1)

D.God’s second response: have faith, justice will prevail (2:2-20)

II.Habakkuk’s Psalm (3:1-19)

A.Habakkuk’s fear (3:1)

B.God’s theophany (3:2-15)

C.Habakkuk’s faith (3:16-19)

630-605 BC

Jeremiah is called to be a prophet; he warns of invasion from the north. 626

Second phase of King Josiah’s reforms when the book of the law is found in the temple 622

Jeremiah’s temple sermon 609

Judah’s King Josiah seeks to block the movement of Pharaoh Neco II’s Egyptian troops as they pass through territory north of Judah en route to join forces with Assyria. Josiah is killed by the Egyptians at Megiddo. 609

Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz II, succeeds him and is deposed, replaced by his brother, Jehoiakim. 609

605-600 BC

Pharaoh Neco II presses on to engage the Babylonian army at Carchemish with the aim of saving what is left of the Assyrian Empire. Nebuchadnezzar leads the Babylonians to defeat Neco at Carchemish. 605

Habakkuk prophesies shortly before or after the battle at Carchemish to point out what the growing Babylonian strength means for Judah. 605

Jehoiakim makes a decision to turn from his alliance with Egypt and submit to Nebuchadnezzar. 604

Jehoiakim ignores Jeremiah’s warning and turns back to Egypt for support after Egypt defeats Babylon at Migdol. 601

600-590 BC

Nebuchadnezzar attacks Jerusalem and leads the citizens of Judah into exile. 605, 597, 586

A reinforced Babylonian army approaches Judah; Jehoiakim dies. 598

Nebuchadnezzar plunders the temple, takes Jehoiachin and the royal family into exile, and Zedekiah becomes king. 597

Ezekiel begins to prophesy. 593

587-580 BC

Zedekiah rebels against Babylon and is taken to Riblah along with his family. At Riblah he witnesses the executions of his sons, before his own eyes are blinded. Then Zedekiah is taken to Babylon. He apparently dies in captivity. 587

Gedaliah is appointed governor of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 587. He is soon assassinated.

As punishment for the uprising against Gedaliah, Nebuchadnezzar deports more citizens. 582