Looking at the background of the book of Habakkuk
In the Old Testament we find the prophet Habakkuk asking questions of God very similar to those many of us are asking today.
- Why are those involved in violence, injustice, wrongdoing, destruction, conflict and strife not brought to justice?
- Have you ever asked that? I’m sure you have. I certainly have.
Habakkuk’s prophecy is a combination of the prophet questioning God on behalf of the people of Judah and of him passing on God’s message to the people. So it makes for a fascinating study as the conversation ensues.
The Issue at Stake in the Background
The Chaldeans were threatening to invade the land of Judah. Some Scripture versions refer to them as the Babylonians, as Babylon was the capital city of Babylonia. Chaldea was initially the southern part of Babylonia, although subsequently absorbed into Babylonia. Archaeologists have discovered the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon in present-day Iraq.
God was threatening to use this cruel attacking nation to punish His people for their practice of idol worship as well as their disregard of God’s law which had been passed down to them by Moses. And Habakkuk was horrified.
The prophet wrote this book in approximately 605 B.C, about the time the Babylonians came into power.
Who was the man, Habakakuk?
We have very little information about Habakkuk, the man, his family, or even his home town. The name Habakkuk comes from the Hebrew verb “embrace”. So his name probably meant, He Who Embraces or He Who Clings.
This is indeed a significant name for a man who clearly clung to his faith even as he wrestled with extremely tough issues.
He may have been a priest involved with the worship of God at the temple, for in the final verse he states, ”For the choir director, on my stringed instruments” (Habakkuk 3:19). That is an interesting possible background to this man of God.
Format of the book
Habakkuk’s approach differs from the other Old Testament prophets. They generally announced God’s judgment on the Jewish nation for their failure to obey the Mosaic Law. Habakkuk, on the other hand, first appeals to God to pour out His justice upon Israel’s wicked enemies.
- Chapter 1 – Habakkuk questions God.
- Chapter 2 – He waits for God’s answer. God replies.
- Chapter 3 – Habakkuk comes to a point of acceptance that God is in control. The chapter ends as he worships the Lord.
Themes revealed in the prophecy
a) God will eventually judge all sin. Even God’s chosen people (Gal. 6:7).
b) Adam and Eve’s sin has resulted in a fallen world yet it is still under God’s control.
c) Although He often uses evil for His purposes, all evildoers will eventually also be judged.
d) We may question God’s actions. However, it is the awareness of God’s presence, rather than rational answers, that truly bring us peace of mind.
e) This prophecy is the foundation for Paul’s famous theological theme justification by faith as well as Martin Luther’s treaty which launched the Reformation.
f) Eventually, all evil will come to an end. But in the meantime, God’s people must continue to exercise faith, even in the presence of evil people and practices. We must never allow current crises or humanitarian disasters .
From Crisis to Confidence: A background summary
In this short, three-chapter prophecy, Habakkuk has much to teach us. As we move through the book a short bit at a time we will come into a deeper knowledge of God and be better enabled to cope better with life’s inevitable crises. By understanding a bit of the background to this book, we will be better equipped to benefit from this remarkable book.
We are not immune to life’s storms. Yet as Christians, we have an unshakable God to hold onto.
As we examine this prophecy together may we, like Habakkuk, be able to bolster our own faith in our amazing God, and the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us move from crisis to confidence!
From next week, “looking at Habakkuk” will contain the first of the weekly studies. I encourage you to use them in your Quiet Times with the Lord—or with these days of Zoom, perhaps gather a small group who want to follow along with you.
Habakkuk was full of questions. Does that describe you today?
What questions are keeping you awake at night?
Share in the comment section if you like and we can look deeper into them.
I hope to see you next week as we start our in-depth look at this encouraging and very topical Old Testament book. Why not read through the book before we start? Enjoy listening to this dramatic reading of the entire book here. Remember, it is a discussion between Habakkuk and God. Identify who is speaking as the reading continues.