By Sam E. Stone
All that is known of the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk is found in his short book. Even this does not tell us his genealogy, nor when he prophesied. Most Bible students place him as a contemporary of Jeremiah (627-586 BC).
The book begins with God raising up the Babylonians as an instrument to punish Palestine. Habakkuk delivered two complaints to the Lord (1:1-4 and 1:12–2:1). He wondered how God could use a heathen nation, one far more wicked than Judah, to punish Judah (1:13). A similar question was echoed by Job and is still pondered by people today: Why do the evil appear to flourish while the righteous suffer? (See also Psalm 73.)
In Habakkuk 1:5-11, God answered. The Lord was aware of the sins of his people and planned to use the Babylonians to discipline the southern kingdom of Judah, just as the Assyrians had done to the northern kingdom of Israel. Exactly how God would do this is suggested in today’s text.
After expressing his concern in a forceful and poetic lament to the Lord (1:12-17), the prophet paused to await God’s response. I will stand at my watch . . . I will look to see what he will say to me. He stood like a watchman on the wall (compare Isaiah 21:6). The Lord replied with specific directions: Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. The prophet was to record his vision in written form so that a messenger could quickly take it to the people.
The specific statements of the Lord speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though a divine answer may not come when we think it should, he always knows what is best. Similar counsel is given elsewhere in Scripture (see 2 Peter 3:9; Hebrews 10:37). Delay is not denial. Whatever God promises, he will do. He works from his eternal timetable, however, not our limited one.
The Two Paths
Habakkuk 2:4, 5
The Babylonians were proud egocentrics. In contrast, God’s people were to trust him completely. The righteous will live by his faith. The closing words of Habakkuk 2:4 are among the most quoted in the New Testament (see Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).
Indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest. The Lord described the Babylonians’ ravenous appetite for people and their possessions. This bloodthirsty army had rolled roughshod over Palestine’s neighbors, and next it would attack them. Habakkuk warned the Babylonians about what would happen to them one day (Habakkuk 2:7). Throughout Scripture God promised that the wicked would eventually be destroyed: “You have shed human blood” and will be repaid for your evil (v. 8).
The Way of Faith
Moving into chapter 3, we note that it is designated “a prayer.” This description is used of various psalms as well (17, 90, 102). Habakkuk knew that God was in his holy temple (2:20) and addressed his prayer in confidence that the Lord would hear him. He and his people were facing difficult challenges—no grapes on the vines . . . the fields produce no food . . . no cattle in the stalls. Still Habakkuk moved from complaining to praising. God was his Savior!
James E. Smith said, “Habakkuk could accept the coming judgment now that he had seen the ultimate manifestation of God’s justice . . . . As long as he had life in his body, Habakkuk resolved to rejoice in Jahweh. His joy was in the person of God, even when he could no longer rejoice in the physical gifts of God (3:18a).”
The prophet’s confidence was shown when he proclaimed, The Sovereign Lord is my strength . . . he enables me to tread on the heights. His confidence remains a source of great encouragement to God’s people today. Even when things look bad, humanly speaking, we can have every confidence in the ultimate victory of Jesus and all his people.
Roland K. Harrison wrote, “Habakkuk has learned the lesson of faith (2:4)—to trust in God’s providence regardless of circumstances. He declares that even if God should send suffering and loss, he would still rejoice in his Savior-God—one of the strongest affirmations of faith in all Scripture.”
One day the earth “will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (2:14; see Isaiah 11:9). The prophet offered hope to the Lord’s people: A better day will come. All will come to see it (Isaiah 66:18; Philippians 2:10, 11).
Believers today continue to live in hope of this wonderful time.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.