SummaryHabakkuk opens by protesting God's inaction in the face of injustice and violence: the wicked thrive at the expense of the righteous. God responds by announcing the invasion of the Babylonians to exact punishment. Habakkuk protests that God's use of the Babylonians is an injustice worse than the injustice they are to punish. God responds by announcing a future judgment of the Babylonians for their own unrighteous acts. Habakkuk, while poised to wait for the eventual judgment of Babylon, receives a vision that evokes memories of past deliverance, both historic and cosmic. The vision engenders a resolve to endure based on God's past and promised character.
The book asserts that oppressive violence is not enduring in the face of God's opposition to it. God is involved in the ebb and flow of history to provide refuge, even from God's own wrath. The book is conscious that God's action on behalf of the righteous is often not immediate or apparent. The disruptiveness of God's acting is frightful when it is anticipated in vision and occurs in history. That same disruptiveness is the source of life that will endure. Thus, the frightfulness is paralleled by an even stronger confidence and exultation.
Where Do I Find It?
Habakkuk is the thirty-fifth book of the Old Testament. It is the eighth of the so-called "minor" (or shorter) prophets, the twelve books that make up the final portion of the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles.
Who Wrote It?
The opening verse of the book attributes the book to Habakkuk, a prophet. The name and designation are repeated in 3:1. No other information is given.
When Was It Written?
The Chaldeans (Babylonians) remain a threat, even in the final, edited form of the book. Thus, a date between the invasion of 597 B.C.E. and the destruction of 587 B.C.E. is the likely historical period for the origin of the book of Habakkuk.
What's It About?
The book is about God's relationship to the present experience of violence and injustice. Unlike most other prophetic books, it does not directly address an audience. Instead, Habakkuk takes up the question of the attentiveness of God to the demise of righteous sufferers and the free range that the wicked have over against them. Through dialogue with God, Habakkuk embodies a way to live in the time between present suffering and future deliverance. Lamenting, petitioning, and trembling are coupled with confident rejoicing in God's commitment to deliver.
How Do I Read It?
This book is best read as a dialogue. There is no direct exhortation to the reader. The reader can take up the role of Habakkuk in the dialogue to ask questions about God's attention to the contemporary world. Given its placement in the prophetic collection (unlike Job, with its similar concerns), readers may find themselves indirectly indicted as they hear echoes of the conduct of the oppressor in their own actions, individual or communal. For example, "setting your nest on high to be safe from the reach of harm" (2:9) might characterize the conduct of the more privileged in our world. If readers find themselves in that position, the book operates differently: it assumes that if God is attentive to injustice, readers will not be able to use injustice to secure a place "safe from the reach of harm."
AUTHOR: Richard W. Nysse, Professor of Old Testament