The Book of Habakkuk

Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Habakkuk, The Book of. O.T. book, a collection of the teachings of the prophet Habakkuk. The book takes up the problem of why the catastrophe of conquest by an enemy should befall the Israelites.

Harperís Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Habakkuk, The Book of. The thirty-fifth book in the Christian ot and one of the twelve Minor Prophets. Nothing is known about the prophet Habakkuk except what can be deduced from his oracles. The book consists of two distinct parts (chaps. 1-2 and chap. 3), each with its own heading. After the title in 1:1 there is a lament concerning the success of the wicked (1:2-4). God responds in 1:5-11 that he is raising up the Chaldeans (i.e., Babylonians) whose cruel power is irresistible. In 1:12-17 the prophet renews his complaint, acknowledging the success of the Babylonians as an act of Godís judgment, but asking when their excesses will be judged. God responds a second time in 2:1-5. Despite the apparent delay, the fulfillment of the vision will be accomplished in its proper time, and the righteous who remain faithful will be preserved. (Paul quotes Hab. 2:4b with an altered sense in Rom. 1:17 and Gal. 3:11.) A series of five threats against the wicked (each introduced by Ďwoe toí) follows in 2:6-19. A liturgical summons to keep silence before God introduces the prayer of Habakkuk in chap. 3. The prayer is actually a hymn with strong mythological overtones, describing Godís appearance to do battle with his enemies (cf. Judg. 5; Deut. 33; Ps. 68). The hymn contains technical notes concerning its (musical?) performance such as one finds in the book of Psalms.

The reference to the coming of the Chaldeans in 1:6 makes it likely that Habakkuk was active in the last quarter of the seventh century b.c. It is unclear, however, to whom Habakkuk refers as Ďthe wicked.í It may be the Assyrians who ruled Judah until their defeat by the Babylonians in 612 b.c. (an event referred to in the book of Nahum, written at about this time). On the other hand, Habakkuk may have been referring to corrupt Judean nobles whom he expected the Babylonians to overthrow before being themselves destroyed by Godís power (a point stressed by Jeremiah, also a contemporary of Habakkuk). The lament-response form of chaps. 1-2 and the psalmlike hymn in chap. 3 may indicate that the book took shape as a liturgy for use in the Temple. Other prophets whose work is probably to be related to the Temple worship are Nahum, Obadiah, and Joel. In the first century b.c. the Qumran community (authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls) produced a commentary on Habakkuk 1-2, relating it to historical events in their own time.

This short book (it contains only fifty-six verses) may be outlined as follows:

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