1. Author and Time of Writing
Habakkuk, Obadiah and Malachi are the only three of the Minor Prophets of which we know nothing else but their names. Habakkuk together with Zechariah and Haggai however belong to the only prophets of Scripture who name themselves “prophet” (Hab. 1:1). Some connect Habakkuk’s name with an Assyrian name of a plant. But since Hieronymus a Father of the Church (who translated the Bible into Latin) Habakkuk’s name has been translated “embraced” or “embracer”.
Martin Luther’s explanation of this meaning is worth mentioning:
“Habakkuk bears the right name to his commission. For Habakkuk means, “to hug”. He does so with his prophecy by hugging or embracing his people. He comforts them and takes them into his arms as one does with a crying child or adult.” (M. Luther’s prefix to the prophet Habakkuk)
The prayer of Habakkuk in chapter 3 being similar to a psalm with its title and conclusion (compare with the title/headings in Psalm 7 and Psalm 4) has led to the presumption that Habakkuk must have been a Levite in the temple service.
The most important hint to Habakkuk’s time of service and to the date of his book is found in chap. 1:6: “For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation”. Various critics of Habakkuk’s book also wanted to misinterpret the name of the Chaldeans (or Chaldees). But there is no reason to doubt that the Chaldeans are identical to the Babylonians. II Kings 25:1 mentions Nebuchadnezzar as king of Babylon and verse 4 of the same chapter mentions the Chaldees as his soldiers (compare with Is. 13:19; Ez. 12:13).
For the New-Babylonian Empire had been expanding constantly since 625 BC under Nabopolassar (625-605 BC). Nineveh the capital of the already weakening Assyrian Empire was conquered in 612 BC (see details in Nahum) and in 605 BC the battle of Carchemish took place in which the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians (compare with Jer. 46:2). With this the whole East was opened up to the Babylonians. Their cruel reputation was known everywhere. Shortly after this, Nebuchadnezzar attacked the kingdom of Judah (605 BC). In the following first deportation of the Jews to Babylon the princes of the nation were deported (2 Kings 20:18; 24:14; Dan. 1:3). The princes were exactly those who had oppressed the lower part of the population (Hab. 1:2-4). Upon the first attack of the Babylonians followed two more in 597 and 586 BC, which lead to Jerusalem’s destruction and to the Babylonian captivity of Judah. All this however had not yet taken place when the book of Habakkuk was written. Although we have no dates mentioned the time of writing could be pretty fixed between the time of Nineveh’s destruction and the first attack on Judah, which would be between 612 and 605 BC.
Habakkuk therefore was a contemporary of Jeremiah. Habakkuk also bears several similarities with Jeremiah, for example his sensitive nature and his grief over the condition of the people of God.
2. Purpose of Writing
Habakkuk, the 8 th of the Minor Prophets, occupies a special place. For he does not speak to men under God’s commission as do the other prophets but he speaks about his people and their enemies the Chaldeans to God. Together Habakkuk’s questions and comments as well as God’s answers build the prophetical utterance that should hit heart and conscience of the people of God.
Habakkuk’s heart is very heavy over the injustice among the people of God (Hab. 1:2-4). In His answer, which is directed to the people, God announces the Chaldeans’ attack as judgment (chap. 1:5-11). Now Habakkuk is even more terrified that God uses a nation even more unjust than the Jews as a rod to punish the people of Israel (chap. 1:12-17).
In chapter 2 Habakkuk receives a second answer from God to show him that Jehovah knows the pride of this evil nation of Babylon and that He will punish it but that the just will live by his faith. From chap. 2:3 we see that this revelation with its five woes (Hab. 2:6-20) not only refers to the imminent invasion of the Chaldeans but that it applies also to a future day.
In chapter 3 finally Habakkuk’s faith triumphs when remembering the glory and might of God to redeem His people of Israel. In his prayer of thanksgiving and praise Habakkuk expresses that he finds his joy and strength in God.
a) Quotations in the New Testament
The apostle Paul seems to have had a special relation to the prophet Habakkuk. Luke tells us in Acts 13:41 that Paul quotes the serious warning of Hab. 1:5 at the end of his preaching in the synagogue in Antioch.
It is especially remarkable however that the apostle (who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write down the glorious truth of justification by faith in the epistle to the Romans) refers to the following words of Habakkuk three times in his epistles: “But the just shall live by his faith”. Each time Paul stresses another word:
“The just shall live by faith” (which means that only the justified will have a true life of faith).
“The just shall live by faith” (and not by the law through which nobody can be justified).
“The just shall live by faith” (which means, the just shall not go into perdition with the godless).
b) The Habakkuk-Commentary from the Dead Sea
In 1947 several old scrolls have been found in the caves of Qumran above the Dead Sea. Many of them contain the Biblical texts of the Old Testament that were around 1,000 to 1,200 years older than the hitherto known Hebrew manuscripts. Among others the so-called Habakkuk-Commentary (1Qp Hab) was found in cave I. This Hebrew manuscript was written around 75 BC and contains the two first chapters of the book of Habakkuk. A commentary is added to each verse in which the incidents of the time of the Jewish commentator are explained to be the fulfilment of Habakkuk’s prophecy.
4. Overview of Contents
I. Habakkuk 1 – 2: Habakkuk’s Problem and God’s Answer
II. Habakkuk 3: Habakkuk’s Submission and Praise