Habakkuk: Background and Setting.

As with several of the Minor Prophets, nothing is really known about Habakkuk the Prophet except what can be gleaned from the book which bears his name. Unfortunately, there is little internal information in which we can draw any concrete conclusions regarding his identity. The simple introduction “Habakkuk the prophet” may suggest that no introduction was necessary since he was a well-known prophet of his day  were his contemporaries Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zephaniah.

One commentator writes, “The mention of the Chaldeans (1:6) suggests a late seventh-century-B.C. date, shortly before Nebuchadnezzar commenced his military march through Nineveh (612 B.C.), Haran (609 B.C.), and Carchemish (605 B.C.), on his way to Jerusalem (605 B.C.). Habakkuk’s bitter lament (1:2–4) may reflect a time period shortly after the death of Josiah (609 B.C.), days in which the godly king’s reforms (cf. 2 Kings 23) were quickly overturned by his successor, Jehoiakim (Jer. 22:13–19).”

Habakkuk prophesied during the final days of the Assyrian Empire and the beginning of Babylon’s world domination under King Nabopolassar and his son Nebuchadnezzar. When Nabopolassar came to power in 626 B.C., he immediately began to expand his kingdom to the north and west of Babylon. Under Nebuchadnezzar’s leadership, the Babylonian army conquered Nineveh in 612 B.C., forcing the Assyrian nobility to take refuge first in Haran and then Carchemish. Nebuchadnezzar pursued them, overrunning Haran in 609 B.C. and Carchemish in 605 B.C.

Concurrently, Pharaoh Neco of Egypt , traveling through Judah in 609 B.C. to assist the fleeing Assyrian king, was opposed by King Josiah at Megiddo (2 Chron. 35:20–24). Josiah was killed in the ensuing battle. Josiah’s throne was left to a succession of three sons and a grandson.  Josiah’s legacy, as a result of discovering the Book of the Law in the temple (622 B.C.), included many spiritual reforms in Judah (2 Kings 22–23). He abolished many of the idolatrous practices of his father Amon (2 Kings 21:20–22) and Grandfather Manasseh (2 Kings 21:11–13). However, when he died Judah quickly reverted to her evil ways (cf. Jer. 22:13–19), causing Habakkuk to question God’s silence and apparent lack of corrective action (Hab. 1:2–4) to judge his covenant people.

The opening verses of Habakkuk reveal a historical context similar to that of the Prophets Amos and Micah. Justice had essentially disappeared from the land of Judah. Violence, injustice and wickedness were pervasive, remaining unchecked. In the midst of these spiritually dark days, Habakkuk cried out to God for divine intervention (1:2–4). 

God’s response, that he was sending the Chaldeans to judge Judah (1:5–11), creates an even greater theological dilemma for Habakkuk: Why didn’t God purge his people and restore their righteousness? How could God use the Chaldeans to judge a people more righteous than they (1:12–2:1)? God’s answer that he would judge the Chaldeans also (2:2–20), did not fully satisfy the prophet’s theological quandary; in fact, it only intensified it.

In Habakkuk’s mind, the fundamental issue was no longer God’s righteous response toward evil (or lack thereof), but the vindication of God’s holy character and covenant with his people (1:13). The fundamental question was God’s use of evil. How can a holy God be holy and at the same time purpose evil to exist and use it for His own glory?

As with the Patriarch Job, the prophet argued with God. It was through that experience that Habakkuk achieved a deeper understanding of God’s sovereign character resulting in a stronger faith in the LORD (cf. Job 42:5–6Isa. 55:8–9). Ultimately, Habakkuk realized that God was not to be worshiped merely for what He does, but also for who He is (3:17–19). Also, God is to be trusted even when believers do not understand what God is doing, and allowing, in their lives.

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “Prophets were not only inspired preachers of divine messages to the people of God; they also shared the LORD’s burden for His broken world and His deep concern for His wayward people. Habakkuk closely resembles Jeremiah. But even more than with Jeremiah, Habakkuk’s dialogue with God, and his persistent prayers (2:1-2; 3:1-2, 16) take the place of prophetic preaching as the heart of the book’s message.”

Like the Prophet Nahum, Habakkuk addresses the subject of God’s sovereign control over human affairs. This is evident not so much when God does providentially intervene, but especially when He does not. Or, when He does intervene in human affairs but in a way which we do not understand or personally like.

Habakkuk remained convinced that the events of history were not determined by blind fate, chance or luck, but rather by the righteous and holy God of Israel.

As was the case in Habakkuk’s day, so God remains sovereign over the affairs of this world today. May we receive great comfort in knowing that God is still in control.

May God’s truth and grace reside here.

Soli deo Gloria!








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