Habakkuk tells us nothing about himself except that he was a prophet, and we may infer from chapter 3, which is evidently a Psalm for the Temple, that he had to do with arranging its services, and was probably a Levite, as he speaks of ''my stringed instruments.''
Habakkuk opens his prophecy with the cry, ''O Lord, how long shall I cry and Thou wilt not hear?'' [1:2], as he looks round upon the iniquity which prevailed in Judah.
The Lord's answer is that He is about to bring a punishment upon this sinful nation in the form of the terrible Chaldean invasion.
The Chaldeans were noted for their cavalry (1:8); they were noted also for scoffing at their captive kings (1:10). Jeremiah's prophecy was fulfilled that [king] Jehoiakim should be ''buried with the burial of an ass,'' that is, ''cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem,'' as food for the vultures (Jer 22:19).
Having seen, in vision, the destruction of his people, Habakkuk again brings his questionings in confidence to God (1:12): ''Art Thou not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die.''
As he waits upon God on his watch-tower [Chapter 2], God speaks again, and tells him to make plain, so that he that runs [as a messenger] may read it, this glorious message for all time, ''The just shall live by faith.'' ''This motto became the center of Paul's teaching (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38). In Romans JUST is the emphatic word; in Galations FAITH; in Hebrews LIVE'' (Dr. Pierson).
Habakkuk speaks of an immediate vision, but he looks on to the end. ''At the end it shall speak... though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.'' In Hebrews, the quotation, ''The just shall live by faith,'' is preceded by the words, ''For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.'' ''Surely I come quickly'' are our Saviour's last words in the Bible [Rev 22:20].
Then God shows Habakkuk that the Chaldeans will be destroyed themselves for their iniquity. God had used Babylon as His hammer to punish the nations, and He was about to break the hammer itself in pieces (Jer 50:23). And He points forward to the Day of Christ, when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14).
Three times in this prayer, he uses the exclamation ''Selah,'' found elsewhere only in the Psalms. It is a call to pause and be silent, that the soul may ''listen to the divine illuming,'' as in the last verse of chapter 2, ''The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him,'' and the words of 2:1, ''I will watch to see what He will say unto me.'' How much we need this silence of soul before the Lord in these days, that we may give Him time to speak to us, that we may ''listen to the divine illuming.'' As we saw in studying the book of Job, the rays of light are vocal, but it needs a finely-tuned ear indeed to hear them.
Though the prophet trembles at the revelations of the Lord, yet he stays himself upon Him in quiet confidence, knowing that he can rest in the day of trouble. He sums up, in the finest poetical language, the failure of everything of earth, and when all nature and every seeming hope is dead, he adds, ''Yet will I rejoice, as with exulting joy, in the God of my Salvation'' [Hab 3:17-19]. It is almost the name of Jesus, for Jesus is ''Jehovah-Salvation,'' or ''Jehovah is Salvation,'' whence the words are here rendered, even by a Jew, ''in God the Author of my redemption,'' and by Augustine, ''In God my Jesus.'' [cp. Heb 5:9; 12:2]