Habakkuk 1 - Outline of Habakkuk (Book Notes menu page)
1. The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.
Habakkuk...- We are told nothing about him other than his name, his profession, and the content of his book.
  • His name is generally considered to be a doubled form of a Hebrew word {chabaq} meaning "to embrace."
    But the sense of this meaning is uncertain. It is evident that the prophet embraced the condition of his people as his own problem. It is also clear that the LORD embraced the prophet to comfort and assure him.
       Some have suggested that his name is rooted in a related word {HB='abaq, to wrestle, (as in Gen 32:24,25)}. This sense fits the text very well. Habakkuk wrestled with the perplexing questions, with which other men have vainly struggled, concerning 'Why' a good God would allow sin and suffering to persist in this world. Through His prophet, the LORD provided an answer for all who will read it and believe. In summary: "The ever present 'Why?' is best answered by the everlasting 'Who'!" [in quotes from TBKC, introduction to Habakkuk]
  • Habakkuk identifies himself as a 'prophet,' one who hears from God and proclaims the message that he has received.
    We will see that hearing from God involves time spent with Him in open and honest dialogue... confessing one's confusion and inability to comprehend God's thoughts... waiting for Him to reveal His plans and purposes... and trusting Him to be faithful to His Word.
  • Internal evidence in this book hints at a few details about Habakkuk, which he did not make clear.
    • The content of his book is written entirely in very refined poetry. He was evidently well educated, with unusual language skills.
    • The closing chapter is a beautiful psalm, which opens with a musical notation, and closes with a note: "To the chief singer on my stringed instruments." These notes suggest that Habakkuk may have been a Levite who had oversight over the musical ministries in the Temple.
    • The time of Habakkuk's ministry and writing, was apparently shortly before the Babylonian captivity of Judah and Jerusalem (as indicated by his description of the nation's sinful condition).
The burden... which... the prophet did see.-
The word 'burden' {HB=massa} refers to 'a heavy oracle' or 'weighty message' from God. This message came in answer to Habakkuk's prayer. It was delivered to him by words in a 'vision' from the LORD, which the prophet 'saw' (Hab 2:2).
     The message which Habakkuk received was unlike the messages of most of the other OT prophets, who proclaimed Israel's judgment and future restoration. While those elements are present in Habakkuk's message, the emphasis is upon the prophet's perplexing questions and the LORD's explanation of His purposes.
I. Habakkuk's Perplexity 1:1- 2:20
A. Introduction, Hab 1:1
B. Problem #1
2 O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!
[even] cry out unto thee [of] violence, and thou wilt not save!
3 Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause [me] to behold grievance?
for spoiling and violence [are] before me:
and there are [that] raise up strife and contention.
4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth:
for the wicked doth compass about the righteous;
therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.
Habbakuk's Question: 'O LORD, why do you overlook the wickedness of Judah?'
'How long shall I cry?' -
Habakkuk was deeply troubled for the condition of his people... and he had been for some time. As the text begins, he had been crying out to God, for quite awhile, asking Him to deal with the wickedness which Habakkuk observed. His ongoing prayer was intense (as indicated by the two different words translated 'cry' or 'cry out'}. His 'cries' were 'loud shouts.' His 'cryings out' were desperate 'pleas for help.' Yet, there was no answer. It seemed like the LORD refused to listen, or to take action to deliver the nation out of their condition.
Why dost thou show me iniquity {HB='aven, wickedness}, and... to behold grievance {HB='amal, trouble, mischief}...-
Habakkuk was observing the evils perpetrated within Judah, by ungodly leaders, and by ungodly people against their neighbors.
  • spoiling {destruction, havoc} and violence {cruelty}.
  • strife {quarrels, lawsuits} and contention {contentious arguments before the judges}.
  • the Law is slacked {loosened, benumbed} and judgment {justice} doth never go forth.
  • the wicked compass {encircle} the righteous... wrong judgment proceedeth {ie., injustice is the outcome}.
Habakkuk's description of Judah's condition fits well with the period following the revival under king Josiah. Under the wicked kings who followed Josiah, the nation's outward veneer of godliness quickly disintegrated.
      Other prophets used similar terms in describing Israel's iniquity. eg., Mic 2:1,2; 3:1-3; Jer 9:2-6; Zeph 3:1-7 (Apparently, Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah and Zephaniah.)
Habakkuk wrestled with the LORD's apparent indifference to the nation's sinful condition.
  • Why was God not distressed by the things which He allowed godly Habakkuk to observe?
    Surely, He saw them, too.
  • Why was the holy God allowing the wicked to prosper?
  • Why was He allowing the ungodly to continue uncorrected?
    (Habakkuk was not the first to raise such questions. eg., Psa 73:2-9; Eccl 8:11)
The Answer to Habakkuk's first problem (1:5-11):
The LORD reveals His Plan: Judah will fall to Babylon.
5. Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously:
for [I] will work a work in your days,
[which] ye will not believe, though it be told [you].
6 For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, [that] bitter and hasty nation,
which shall march through the breadth of the land,
to possess the dwellingplaces [that are] not theirs.
Behold ye among the nations... regard...
While Habakkuk was focused on his own nation, the LORD was moving in the affairs of all men. His work is not limited to the nation of Israel.
     The LORD directs Habakkuk, and also all of Judah (the pronouns 'ye' and 'your,' in v.5 are plural), to pay attention to what He was doing in the surrounding nations. For example:
  • The LORD had judged the northern kingdom of Israel for their sin, when they were taken captive to Assyria (a little over 100 years prior to Habakkuk's writing).
  • The LORD had also judged Assyria for their mistreatment of Israel, when Nineveh fell to Babylon, as the Babylonian empire was beginning to rise.
...and wonder marvellously {ie., be astounded}, for I work a work...
...which ye will not believe though it be told...
The thing that the LORD was about to do, would occur "in your days" Habakkuk. (This is another indication that Habakkuk lived just prior to the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon.)
     The LORD's action, in judging Jerusalem, would be very difficult for Habakkuk (and his people) to accept as true, when it was declared to him (them). Habakkuk would wrestle with what he heard. The nation refused to believe the warning, declared by the prophets, of imminent judgment at the hands of Babylon (eg., Joel 2:12-14; Zeph 2:1-3). In their unbelief, they failed to repent and turn back to the LORD, and their fate was sealed.
     Paul quoted v.5 in Acts 13:38-41, as he declared the work of God in providing salvation through Jesus Christ. Paul's Jewish hearers (at the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia) had heard reports about the events of Christ's ministry, His miracles and teachings, His death and resurrection. Paul declared that God had dealt with man's sin at the cross of Christ, and had provided the way of escape from judgment for sin. This salvation was freely available to all who would believe.
     But just as in Habakkuk's day, when the nation would not believe God's Word through the prophets, so, in Paul's day Israel did not believe what God had done. Rather than believing and receiving the Messiah, and the blessings of His Kingdom, the rulers in Jerusalem had rejected and crucified their King. Likewise in Antioch of Pisidia, many of the Jews rejected the Gospel message and expelled Paul from their town.
     The danger of unbelief is also very real, for those who hear God's Word, today. About two thousand years ago, God did a work, by which He dealt with sin, so that men could be made acceptable before Him. This salvation is still available, to as many as believe and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. But tragically, few believe (Joh 1:10-13; Isa 53:1).
     Was the LORD ignorant or apathetic concerning the sin and unbelief of Israel, in Habakkuk's day? No. He was about to take action, which even Habakkuk would have difficulty believing.
For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans...
The Chaldeans were the people group which occupied lower Mesopotamia. Abraham was called out of "Ur of the Chaldees" (Gen 15:7), a city which was on the Euphrates River about 200 miles west of the Persian Gulf. Babylon was about 150 miles further upstream from Ur.
     The LORD called Habakkuk's attention {'lo,' ie., behold} to the rise of the Babylonian empire... as His doing.
...that bitter and hasty {ie., cruel and impetuous} nation...
The reputation of the Babylonians was already widely known, even before they reached their stride as the superpower of their day, because of their merciless destruction of Nineveh.
...which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces [that are] not theirs.
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, would claim the land {HB=ha'aretz} of Israel, as part of his empire, though the LORD had given it to Abraham and the children of Israel, forever (Gen 15:18).
     In the next few verses, the LORD describes the conduct of the Babylonians during their imminent invasion of the land of Israel.
7 They [are] terrible and dreadful: {or, dreadful and fearful}
their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves.
...their judgment... of themselves.-
They were a law unto themselves, recognizing no authority superior to themselves.
...their dignity... of themselves.-
They were arrogantly self-confident, considering themselves a superior race.
Nebuchadnezzar exhibited these qualities. eg., Dan 3:15; 4:30
8 Their horses also are swifter than the leopards,
and are more fierce than the evening wolves:
and their horsemen shall spread themselves,
and their horsemen shall come from far;
they shall fly as the eagle [that] hasteth to eat.
Their armies would approach with unusual speed and ferocity... and they would employ new tactics. Whereas Egypt and Assyria specialized in chariot warfare, the Babylonians preferred the cavalry (soldiers on horseback), as more nimble and less affected by weather, road conditions and terrain.
9 They shall come all for violence:
their faces shall sup up [as] the east wind,
and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.
10 And they shall scoff at the kings,
and the princes shall be a scorn unto them:
they shall deride every strong hold;
for they shall heap dust, and take it.
11 Then shall [his] mind change, and he shall pass over,
and offend, [imputing] this his power unto his god.
The Babylonians would come... (v.9-11)
  • with unity of purpose - for violence {HB=chamas, violent wrong-doing, maliciousness; ie., to do wrong, to commit cruelty} -
    Judah would reap what they had sown (v.2-4).
  • with undeterrable intensity - Their faces were set to eagerly swallow everything before them.
    As a relentless east wind (hot, from the desert) caused farmland to wither and die, so, all nations in their path would be scorched, and their people would be taken captive, without number. Jer 25:9; Hab 2:5
  • with arrogant disregard for the rulers and the military preparations of other nations.-
    The Babylonians were confident in the superior strength of their military, and of their gods. They were confident of their tactics to overcome the defenses of strongholds {ie., walled cities}. They would simply gather soil and debris from the surrounding area and build an embankment to enable their soldiers to go over the wall.
Then shall his mind change... pass over... offend... imputing... his power to his god.
In the days of king Hezekiah (100 years earlier), there was a friendly relationship between Babylon and Jerusalem (Isa 39:1-8). For several years, prior to the fall of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar had placed the last few kings of Judah under submission to Babylon. However, more than once, they rebelled against him. Eventually, Nebuchadnezzar decided to do away with his rebellious vassel state. He destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, and took the people captive. 2Chr 36:5-21
     As explained (in 2Chr 36:13-17), because Judah had offended, by corrupting themselves and polluting the holy things of God, the LORD allowed a heathen nation to further desecrate the holy places and to give the credit to their false gods.
     In his arrogance, Nebuchadnezzar overstepped God's purpose (Isa 47:6), declared his own deity, and forced all to worship him (Daniel ch.3). In so doing, he foreshadowed the future Antichrist (Rev 13:1-6).
That this evil, against His people, would be, not only allowed by the LORD, but actually His intentional work (v.5,6), was unthinkable for Habakkuk.
I. Habakkuk's Perplexity 1:1- 2:20
C. Problem #2 (1:12- 2:20)
     Question: Why will God use a more wicked nation as His instrument of judgment? 1:12- 2:1
12. [Art] thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One?
we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment;
and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.
13 [Thou art] of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity:
wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously,
[and] holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth
[the man that is] more righteous than he?
14 And makest men as the fishes of the sea,
as the creeping things, [that have] no ruler over them?
15 They take up all of them with the angle,
they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag:
therefore they rejoice and are glad.
16 Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag;
because by them their portion [is] fat, and their meat plenteous.
17 Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations?
Habakkuk is astonished (as the LORD had forewarned, in v.5).
The questions which flood his mind can be summarized:
'How can Israel's holy God use an even more wicked nation to judge His people?'
Habakkuk confesses his confusion, and clings to his faith in the LORD, calling Him "my God,"
and claiming His promises to Israel, "We shall not die."
  • Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God...?
    ie., Surely, the eternal God, who anticipates the end from the beginning, will not violate His everlasting covenants with Abraham and his seed, and with David and his seed. Examples:
  • [Are You not]... mine Holy One? -
    Elsewhere, 'the Holy One' refers to 'the Redeemer of Israel.' Isa 43:14-21; 49:7
    ie., Surely, destruction at the hands of Babylon cannot be the fate of the people whom You have purchased for Yourself.
Habakkuk argues, from the character of God, that He must destroy Babylon, rather than Israel.
  • 'Thou hast ordained {appointed} them for judgment... for correction.'
  • 'Thou art of purer eyes than to behold {HB=ra'ah, gaze upon} evil,
    and canst not look on {HB=nabat, look with favor upon} iniquity...'
    • Then... Why would You look with favor upon the treacherous {deceitful} dealings of Babylon?
    • and... Why would You say nothing when they consume Israel, which is more righteous than Babylon?
      At the beginning of this chapter (v.2-4), Habakkuk wrestled with why the LORD did not take action against the injustices which were rampant in Judah. He complained that the wicked were prevailing against the righteous, while God was silent.
         Here, Habakkuk seems to forget the unrighteousness of his nation. In the eyes of men, one man (or nation) may be more righteous than another. But in the eyes of God, "there is none righteous, no not one" (Rom 3:10). One man (or nation) may be more wicked than another. But we are all condemned sinners, under the same penalty: "The wages of sin is death" (Rom 3:23; 6:23). Before the holy God, there can be no acceptance of the sinner, unless and until his sin has been purged away. In great mercy toward us, the LORD accomplished this purging at the cross of Christ, for all those who put their trust in Him. Rom 3:19-26; 2Cor 5:20,21
Lest the LORD's pure eyes might overlook any reasons for their judgment,
Habakkuk itemizes Babylon's wickedness... (v.14-16)
  • They act as though they have 'no Ruler over them':
    without regard for the Creator and Sustainer of life.
  • They treat other men like fish and insects:
    without regard for the dignity of mankind, made in the image of God.
  • They ruthlessly capture and plunder other people:
    regarding only their own self-satisfaction and enjoyment.
  • They worship 'their net and... their drag'. (cp. v.11,16) -
    ie., Their gods are the tools of their conquests: their armies and their weapons.
    They have no regard for the true and living God, who allowed their willful actions, and to whom all must give an account. Isa 10:13-15
Habakkuk asks a final question (v.17):
  • 'Shall they continue emptying and refilling their nets, with one nation after another?'
    ie., 'Will You permit them to continue destroying the nations perpetually?'
The conclusion of Habakkuk's dialogue with the LORD concerning his second problem overflows to the first verse of ch. 2.
2:1. I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower,
and will watch to see what he will say unto me,
and what I shall answer when I am reproved.
Habakkuk did what you and I ought to do, when we struggle to understand what the LORD is doing.
Like Habakkuk, we cannot see from God's perspective. Often, we also ask 'why.' What should we do, when tortured by unexplained troubles, or wrung out by the wrongs of this world? We could 'curse God and die' as Job's wife counseled him in his time of trouble (Job 2:7-10). We could grow depressed and cast aside our confidence in the LORD (Heb 10:35,36). Or, we could follow Habakkuk's example.
     Habakkuk took his burden to the LORD in prayer. His prayer was open and honest. He confessed his confusion. He expressed his feelings on the issue, and explained the way things looked to him. Then, he committed his burden to the LORD, trusting that He would answer his questions in due time.
...I will stand upon my watch...
The prophets were 'watchmen' (eg., Eze 3:17). Like the observers in the watchtower on a city's wall, who kept watch for approaching enemies, the prophets were responsible to perceive God's Word and to relate it to the people. Frequently, that Word was a warning of approaching judgment, combined with a call to repentance. Sometimes it was a Word of direction or encouragement, to enable God's people to understand His Will and to endure through times of trouble.
...I will stand... will set me {ie., station myself}... will watch {attentively observe}... to see {ie., to perceive}...
The watchman, on the wall, spent countless days with nothing new to report. Yet, his job was to watch and wait, with attention and anticipation. So, Habakkuk waited, expecting an answer, but not knowing when it would come, or what the message would be.
...and what I shall answer {ie., reply} when I am reproved {ie., corrected}...
Sensing that he may have spoken amiss, because of misunderstanding God's ways, Habakkuk was expecting to be corrected (Isa 55:8,9). He was not fearing an angry 'rebuke' for speaking openly with his God. Rather, he stood ready to submit to the LORD's Word, as He gave him understanding.
      Habakkuk's prayer was not unlike that of his contemporary, Jeremiah, who expressed similar questions to the LORD (Jer 12:1-4).
The LORD answered Jeremiah,
  • by warning that his troubles were about to worsen (Jer 12:5,6), and
  • by revealing the brokenness of His own heart for His people (Jer 12:7-11), and
  • by revealing His purpose to deal with Israel's sin and also with their enemies (Jer 12:12-17).
The LORD's answer to Habakkuk is in chapter 2.

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