Providence and Justice – Habakkuk 1:1-2:20

Read the Passage: Habakkuk 1:1-2:20

Background

As with several of the other Minor Prophets, little is known about the prophet Habakkuk. Indeed, the name Habakkuk does not occur outside of this book, although several New Testament authors cite the prophet’s writings, especially Hab. 2:4 (cf. Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). Since Habakkuk is formally identified as a prophet, he likely was so well known in his own day that he needed no introduction. Note that Habakkuk was a contemporary of the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zephaniah. On account of the musical structure and allusions in this book (cf. Hab. 3:19) it is possible that Habakkuk was a Levite who served in the Temple. While the book is not dated, internal evidence suggests that it was written after the death of the king Josiah in 609 BC and before the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 605 BC.

Historically speaking, Habakkuk was writing at the time of the end of the Assyrian empire and the ascension of the Babylonian (or Chaldean) empire. The king during the actual writing of Habakkuk was likely the evil king Jehoiakim (609–598 BC). The godly king Josiah (641–609 BC), who had rediscovered the law in 622 BC, had been killed in 609 BC at Megiddo by Pharaoh Necho (cf. 2 Chron. 35:20–24). While Josiah had reformed the evil practices of his father Amon (643–641 BC) and grandfather Manassah (697–643 BC), upon his death the Israelites had returned to their evil ways. It was this seemingly unchecked evil that prompted Habakkuk to begin his interaction with God, recorded in this book. The theological theme of this book, then, can be summed up with the question, “Is God just?”

The Prophet’s First Question (1:1–11)

In Habakkuk 1:1–11 we see the prophet’s first question (cf. Hab. 1:1–4) and God’s first response (cf. Hab. 1:5–11). In sum, Habakkuk’s question was, “How long shall I cry and you will not hear?” (Hab. 1:2). With this question, which is asked in one way or another some 65 times in the Bible, the prophet was essentially accusing God of being unjust for allowing unchecked sin, identified in Hab. 1:2–4 as violence, iniquity, trouble, strife, plundering, contention, wickedness, and perverse judgment. God’s interesting response to Habakkuk’s complaint is, “I will work a work in your days which you would not believe though it were told you” (Hab. 1:5). By way of response the Lord then continues on to describe the evil nature and practices of the Chaldeans whom He was raising up to use as an instrument of judgment against the apostate Israelites.

The Prophet’s Second Question (1:12–2:4)

The Lord’s answer to Habakkuk’s first inquiry prompted a second question, recorded in Hab. 1:12–2:1. In short, the prophet’s question is essentially, “Why do you look on those who deal treacherously and hold your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?” (Hab. 1:13). God’s response in Hab. 2:2–20 is summed up at Hab. 2:4, “The just shall live by his faith.” This verse is essentially the key to the entire book of Habakkuk. Paul cites Hab. 2:4 at Rom. 1:17 and Gal. 3:11 to show that salvation is attained, as it has always been attained, by faith in Christ. The writer of the book of Hebrews cites Hab. 2:4 at Heb. 10:38 to make the point that faith is the evidence of salvation and the key to sanctification. The point is that faith is not a one-time act but a way of life. True faith perseveres despite seemingly unjust circumstances.

Judgment of the Wicked (2:5–20)

As a part of his response to Habakkuk’s second question, in Hab. 2:5–20 the Lord speaks of His judgment of the wicked. Contextually this would have included: (1) the Israelites, who were being judged by the God through the Babylonians; (2) the Babylonians, who would later be judged by God through the Medo-Persians, and (3) all mankind whom God will judge, whether it be in the present or the future. In this passage God proclaims five woes, in three verses each, against the Babylonians. They are woes because of extortion (cf. Hab. 2:6–8), exploitation (cf. Hab. 2:9–11), ruthlessness (cf. Hab. 2:12–14), debauchery (cf. Hab. 2:15–17), and idolatry (cf. Hab. 2:18–20). So essentially Habakkuk had asked how God could use a nation more wicked than Israel to judge Israel, and the Lord responded that no one will escape accountability for their sins.

Application Questions:

  1. Have you ever wanted to accuse God of injustice because of seemingly unchecked sin or personal loss?
  2. How would you define the concept of faith? Do most Christians have an adequate understanding of faith? What things challenge your faith?
  3. Does the thought of God’s accountability for sin comfort or concern you?
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