Life, Hope & Truth

Habakkuk

God’s responses to Habakkuk’s questions reveal how He regards sin and its consequences, and how faith is paramount to understanding our ultimate destiny.

The name Habakkuk means “to embrace” and may refer to the author’s close relationship with God and to a future time when our Creator will embrace all nations when He reigns supreme.

Notice Habakkuk 2:20: “But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Jesus Christ is depicted as ruling on the earth when all people will share in the peace and abundant life His righteous reign will produce (Isaiah 11:1-9).

The book of Habakkuk is the eighth volume of the Minor Prophets, but little is known about the author outside of the book that bears his name. It is most likely that he was contemporary with Jeremiah, Nahum and Zephaniah.

Time setting

Habakkuk makes no mention of Assyria, but he refers to the increasing Chaldean (also known as Babylonian) power. Thus it can be concluded that he prophesied in Judah, possibly during the reign of Jehoiakim and shortly before the invasion by Nebuchadnezzar (Habakkuk 1:6). There is no indication that the reforms implemented by Josiah were still in existence, as he laments the lawlessness and wickedness prevalent among the Jews.

Habakkuk was commissioned to foretell the invasion and destruction of the land by the Chaldeans. The northern kingdom of Israel had already gone into captivity to Assyria, and God was going to chastise the southern kingdom of Judah through the Babylonians.

An outline of Habakkuk

Here is one way to outline the book of Habakkuk:

Chapter 1:1-4: Habakkuk’s first question.

Was God indifferent to Judah’s sins, which were heinous and widespread? The nation was guilty of:

  • Violence (Habakkuk 1:2).
  • Plundering and violence (verse 3).
  • Strife and contention (verse 3).
  • Disregarding and abusing the law (verse 4).
  • Exploiting the righteous (verse 4).
  • Corrupting and misusing judgment (verse 4).

Habakkuk had trouble understanding why it appeared God was unconcerned about Judah’s sins. Even though he understood that God was not detached from the people’s ungodliness, he needed an answer.

Chapter 1:5-11: God answers.

God’s answer is that He would not leave the people of Judah unpunished but would raise up the Chaldeans as a rod of chastisement and correction (1:5-11). The Chaldeans were a cruel and terrible people, who would sweep down and invade the land.

Chapter 1:12-2:1: Habakkuk’s second question.

God’s response raised a greater dilemma and perplexing puzzle for the prophet. How could a holy and righteous God punish Judah by using an even more wicked and unrighteous nation? The conqueror was worse than those appointed to be chastised (1:12-17)!

Chapter 2:2-20: God’s answer.

God’s answer is that all will be faithfully judged with righteous judgment (2:1-20). In the final analysis only those who trust in God and remain loyal to Him will live. God will punish arrogance, pride and wrongdoing. None will escape the penalty of evil and wickedness.

James Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, under the heading “Habakkuk,” makes this insightful observation: “He is told that the purpose of God is hastening to its fulfilment, and is encouraged to wait for it. Then follows the famous sentence, ‘Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him: but the just shall live in his faithfulness [‘live by his faith,’ New King James Version].’ The meaning of this is plain. Tyranny is self-destructive, and carries within itself the seeds of doom. But while the evil-doer passes away, the just man, steadfast in the face of all contradiction, shall live, and last out the storm of judgement.”

The just living by faith is one of the major themes of the book. The “faith” that we are to live by is not man’s faith, but the living faith that God gives to those who live in harmony with Him.

Habakkuk was instructed to write down what he was told. The vision had to be made so plain that a person running past would be able to read the words (2:2). The prophet was informed that the fulfillment was “for an appointed time” yet in the future (verse 3).

Armed with God’s response and the certainty that wickedness will be punished, the prophet uttered a fivefold series of woes against those who oppose God and His laws.

It seems from the context that these woes are directed more specifically at the Chaldeans. They cannot escape the law of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7)—God’s universal law of retribution for those who in the vanity of their minds consider themselves beyond reproach and punishment (Habakkuk 2:5).

In this context Habakkuk recorded five types of wickedness found in the Chaldeans:

  • Aggression, pride, abuse of power and greed (2:5-8).
  • Covetousness (2:9-11).
  • Excessive violence (2:12-13).
  • Inhumanity and heartlessness (2:15-17).
  • Idolatry (2:18-19).

Chapter 3: Habakkuk’s psalm.

The prophet ends the book with a psalm (song) of praise and prayer. It appears that this prayer was to be sung, as the note in Habakkuk 3:19 says: “To the Chief Musician. With my stringed instruments.”

Upon hearing God’s coming judgment, the prophet expressed his concern (verse 2), and showed his tender side by asking God to exercise mercy when applying His judgment. He then proceeded to enumerate the miraculous acts of God in the past history of His people.

  • God’s awesome presence at Mount Sinai and His power to intervene for His people (3:3-7).
  • The division of the Red Sea and later the Jordan River, enabling the Israelites to enter the Promised Land (3:8-10).
  • His powerful intervention for the Israelites in battle (3:11-15).
  • Habakkuk trembles at the thought of what is yet to occur, but nothing that happens on the earth can remove God’s promises: “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills” (3:18-19).

Habakkuk was a prophet of living faith. He believed that God would accomplish in his lifetime what was necessary, and that later He would implement the final stages of His purpose for all nations. Habakkuk had the assurance that God would bring to completion His promise: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).

The New Testament and Habakkuk

The book of Habakkuk is quoted several times in the New Testament, including the book of Acts. In Acts 13:40-41 the apostle Paul quoted the warning in Habakkuk 1:5 and applied it to the people of Antioch. It is reasonable to conclude that the warning the prophet gave under inspiration is also relevant for us today.

Also, three epistles refer to Habakkuk 2:3-4 in order to support their teachings. These three passages are:

Hebrews 10:35-39 applies these verses in Habakkuk to the mind-set of Christians as they wait for the return of Jesus Christ. God’s true servants need to practice patience and endurance in order to gain their “great reward” (Hebrews 10:35-36). Christ’s return is certain and sure, but until that day dawns, the “just” are not to “draw back,” but are rather to “live by faith” (Hebrews 10:38-39).

In Romans 1:16-17, the apostle Paul stresses that an unshakable belief in the gospel message ultimately leads to salvation and eternal life. After referring to the gospel of Christ as “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (verse 16), he cites Habakkuk 2:4 to back up his statement: “The just shall live by faith” (verse 17).

The key point is that the just shall “live” by faith. It is by faithfully living God’s way that we come to a greater understanding of the good news about mankind’s future in the Kingdom of God.

In Galatians 3:11, Paul cites the same scripture to explain how faithful followers of Jesus Christ are justified (made righteous in God’s sight) by exercising faith in their daily lives. When we understand the good news of the Kingdom of God, we are expected to repent by turning from our own ways and making the Kingdom our priority (Matthew 6:33).

The just shall live by faith

Halley’s Bible Handbook makes the following meaningful comment: “The lesson of the book is, Man shall live by Faith (2:2-4). Faith is the ability to feel so sure of God, that, no matter how dark the day, there is no doubt as to the outcome. For God’s people there is a GLORIOUS FUTURE. It may be a long way off. But it is absolutely Sure. Thus, in the midst of his gloom and despair, Habakkuk was an optimist of the first magnitude” (pp. 372-373).

Speaking of His second coming to the earth, Christ made this startling statement: “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).

When Christ uttered these words, He was looking to a future time—to our present generation—when the world would be destitute of faith. Yet without the faith Christ spoke about, none can be saved.

Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the Faith Chapter of the Bible. In verse 1 faith is defined as “the substance [foundation] of things hoped for, the evidence [confidence, conviction, assurance] of things not seen.” Faith precedes possession because it is the confidence or assurance that we shall in the future possess or receive it.

In Hebrews 11:6 we are instructed that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (emphasis added throughout).

Faith is trusting God to be faithful to His plan for mankind, His promises and His Word.

Christ’s faith in us

Hebrews 11:13 records the mind-set of the patriarchs: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

They demonstrated their faith by believing that God would act according to His promises. The Bible reveals God’s will for us. Revelation 14:12 pictures the saints as “those who keep the commandments of God and [have] the faith of Jesus.”

Consider the following areas where faith is required:

  • Christ was willing to sacrifice His life for us, for our sins (Romans 5:8).
  • Upon true repentance and baptism, God will give us His Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
  • As we devote our lives to seeking the coming Kingdom of God, God has promised that He will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
  • There will be a resurrection of the saints who will inherit the Kingdom of God, no longer as flesh-and-blood humans, but as glorified spirit beings (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).

Build faith into your life

Faith is developed by reading and studying the Bible regularly (Romans 10:17), and by obeying the laws, standards and principles that govern human existence.

It is for our benefit, welfare and ultimate happiness that the prophet Habakkuk was inspired by our Creator to record the words: “The just shall live by his faith.”

How will you respond?

Learn more about the faith God want us to have in the articles in the “Faith” section of this website.

For further study, read the articles in the “Minor Prophets” section.

For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.

About the Author

André van Belkum

Andre van Belkum

Andre van Belkum currently serves as the pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in New Zealand and the Pacific region. Previously he pastored congregations in southern Africa, including South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

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