What is the book of Habakkuk about?

Last updated on January 8, 2024

The Book of Habakkuk is essentially the written recording of an extended conversation between the prophet Habakkuk, and God. The subject of their conversation: the fate of the region where Habakkuk lives.  The prophet doesn’t disclose where this might be. This could be an omission – perhaps Habakkuk didn’t expect his prophecy to be read by anyone other than the people who knew where they were. Or, it could be an indication that the prophecy has a dual fulfillment: one fulfillment in Habakkuk’s time, and one or more later fulfillments.

There are some clues to the period of writing, however. Habakkuk mentions “Your people” and “Your anointed” (3:13), which likely refers to Israel or Judah, or both (since they were God’s special people). And we know that Judah was subject to occupation by the Chaldeans on three occasions: 605, 597 and 586 before Christ, a period described in 2 Kings 24-25.

1. Why did Habakkuk write this book?

This book is the only prophetic writing Habakkuk left for posterity, so it is not known if Habakkuk made any earlier or later prophecies. What we do know, is that God very specifically wanted him to write this one down. “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it,” God says in Hab. 2:2. God also makes sure that Habakkuk understands the importance of it, and that the prophecy will come to pass. “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

It was Habakkuk himself who invited God to disclose to him what was going to happen, in fact, it is Habakkuk himself who calls for God’s intervention in Hab. 1:1-7. There is “destruction and violence” where he lives, and no justice anywhere: “Even the law is paralyzed” (1:4). So it is the wickedness of the people around him that prompts him to call for God’s help.

2. What is the book about?

In response to Habakkuk’s repeated calls for God’s help, God sends him a vision. He informs Habakkuk that He will arrange for the Chaldeans, a ruthless people from the Babylonian empire, to invade his country (1:5-11). Habakkuk is shocked: the Chaldeans’ reputation is horrific. Surely God will not will not use them to effect punishment on his fellow-countrymen (1:12-17)?

But in the vision Habakkuk receives, God clarifies that He is well aware of the evil of the Chaldeans. In Hab. 2:6-20, He announces that the Chaldeans will be punished themselves, once they have executed God’s wrath. This appears to reassure Habakkuk that God is the Almighty One Who is always in control. He praises God’s power, and accepts his own fate and that of his people in Hab. 3:16. Habakkuk concludes with a confirmation of this acceptance: even if the country will suffer all sorts of shortages, Habakkuk says he “will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

3. What can we learn from the Book of Habakkuk?

At the start of the book, Habakkuk is in turmoil. When God announces His response, Habakkuk realizes that the solution might be worse than the problem. But, he knows that God is in control. This makes him confident that he will be able to endure the hardships that God has shown him. Habakkuk 3:13 says: “You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.” Whereas God’s people will be saved, His enemies will be destroyed in the most spectacular way. Even “the sun and moon stood still in their place” (3:11).

With that knowledge, Habakkuk feels free to celebrate – even though at that point in time, the wickedness around him is still present and the worst is still to come. “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places,” he writes in his concluding verses. Given the profoundness of his complaint and his circumstances, and the horrific prospect of the most cruel people in the region coming to invade his home country, any predicament we might find ourselves in, can scarcely be worse than Habakkuk’s. Yet Habakkuk has faith. He puts his trust in God, and rejoices.

What a wonderful message!

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