Habakkuk’s three-chapter prophecy reads like a play in five acts.
The prophet complains that the southern Jewish nation of Judah has gone bad.
It’s overrun with so much violence, destruction, arguing, fighting, and injustice that “There’s too much of it for the law to handle” (1:4).
God’s shocking answer
God says he’s bringing in Babylonian invaders to punish the Israelite nation.
“The army comes to hurt and to kill.
They blow in like a desert storm” (1:9).
Habakkuk’s blunt question to God
“Why on earth would you tolerate these intolerable people?
How can you side with the bad guys,
Letting them kill people better than they are?” (1:13).
God’s reassuring answer
God says the Babylonians will one day answer for their cruelty: “In the end, you’ll die for what you did” (2:10). But not yet.
Habakkuk’s stunning prayer of faith
God had told the prophet that good people will live “because of their devotion” (2:4). Some Bibles say it’s because of their faith or faithfulness. That single verse, quoted by Paul (Romans 1:17) helped launch the Protestant Movement—in a breakaway from the Roman Catholic Church, led by German priest Martin Luther (1483-1546).
“Devotion,” “faith,” “faithfulness.” Whatever word we pick, Habakkuk showed his trust in God. We see it in a prayer that describes what Babylonian invaders would do to decimate the Promised Land of the Jews:
“When fig trees don’t blossom,
Grapes don’t grow,
When olive crops disappear,
Fields produce dirt,
When sheep are taken,
Cattle gone from their stalls,
What will I do?
I will thank God that he is my Savior.
He gives me the strength to go on.
He gives me the sure-footed speed of a deer,
And to higher ground he leads on (3:17-18).
“This is a message the prophet Habakkuk was told to deliver” (1:1).
In one way, Habakkuk is like most Bible prophets: We know almost nothing about him. He may have lived when Jeremiah did. And, like Jeremiah, he may have suffered through Babylon’s siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.
Most scholars seem to presume Habakkuk wrote his prophecy sometime after Babylon rose to power by defeating Assyrians in 612 BC. But they say he like wrote it before Babylonian invaders destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple about 26 years later, in 586 BC.
Habakkuk mentions the Babylonians by name (1:6). They became the leading power in the region when they destroyed Assyria’s capital city of Nineveh in 612 BC. Babylonians then mopped up Assyria’s remaining forces a few years later, at the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BC.
Babylon invaded the Jewish nation of Judah in 605, 597, and then in 586 BC, when it destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple and deported most surviving Jews to what is now Iraq. That’s where Babylon was based, in southern Iraq. By keeping most Jewish leaders nearby, Babylon made it harder for the Jews to rebuild their nation. For a generation, the world lived without a Jewish nation.
That disaster, the end of Judah, was the prophecy of Habakkuk and many other Bible prophets.
Habakkuk lived in the southern Jewish nation of Judah, which had its capital in Jerusalem. The northern Jewish nation of Israel, with its capital in Samaria, was gone. Assyrians defeated it in about 722 BC and deported most of the survivors to what is now Iraq. They became known as the Lost Tribes of Israel.
Habakkuk’s prophecy warns that God is going to use Babylonian invaders to punish the Jewish nation of Judah by attacking them. The point doesn’t seem so much about warning them, though.
This is a conversation between Habakkuk and God about injustice. It’s about Habakkuk’s decision to keep trusting God in the hard times, even when Habakkuk doesn’t understand why God is allowing the injustice and deadly cruelty to continue.