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Studies in the Prophets
HABAKKUK

Habakkuk

The main clue to the date of Habakkuk may be in 1:6
“For lo I am rousing the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation.”
That would point to a time after 626 BC.
I think those who comment on this book are, to within a year or so fairly well agreed on the date.
Some are a bit more specific than others.
One commentator thinks it ought to be 612BC the year that Nineveh was overthrown.  
Others feel 605BC is indicated just after the battle of Carchemesh in 605BC the event which raised Nebuchadnezzar as a world ruler.

So Habakkuk is roughly contemporary with Jeremiah.

There is a bit of a puzzle with Habakkuk . It is not clear who the righteous and the wicked refer to.
1:4
So the law is slacked
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous,
    so justice goes forth perverted.

This seems to aim at affairs in Judah itself – and as such is a typical prophetic complaint about the oppression of the weak.

However there is in v 13 another complaint about faithless men and this time the implication is that it is Babylon.

The commentators have a wonderful time trying to match up who the righteous are and who are the wicked. The really brave ones get as far as naming names saying Habakkuk’s words are directed against king Jehoiakim who undid many of the reforms of his father king Josiah.

The simplest theory is that Habakkuk laments injustice in Judah, prophesies that it will be punished by Babylon and also that Babylon in turn will be punished for its own crimes. That is the sort of sequence one finds in a book such as Jeremiah.
The twist in Habakkuk is in his questioning the justice of the answer since the Babylonians will overrun those more righteous than they are ie Judah.

But in 2:1-5 the faithful are encouraged to be patient because Babylon will be overthrown in due course.
I will take my stand to watch,
and station myself on the tower,
and look forth to see what he will say to me,
    and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
2 And the Lord answered me:
“Write the vision;
    make it plain upon tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
3 For still the vision awaits its time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seem slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come, it will not delay.
4 Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail,[a]
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.[b]
5 Moreover, wine is treacherous;
    the arrogant man shall not abide.[c]
His greed is as wide as Sheol;
    like death he has never enough.  Hab 2:1-5

Another puzzle with the book of Habakkuk is in respect of chapter 3 which is said to be a prayer of the prophet according to Shigionoth.
Some scholars claim this is a later addition to the work.
Among the writings at Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls) there is a commentary on the book of Habakkuk, which lacks any reference to chapter 3. It is quite a different chapter and seems to be a self-contained psalm like prayer of praise and confidence.

Habakkuk is somewhat enigmatic
He doesn’t seem to have been a court prophet. There is no evidence pointing to this.
Years ago influential scholars whose books I read were full of the idea that Habakkuk was a cultic prophet. That meant that he worked in the Temple at Jerusalem alongside the priests. We know from other passages that they existed and there was considerable speculation which suggested that Habakkuk was one of them.
This would mean that his complaints are made to God in the context of worship and that the oracles of reassurance came as God’s response.
This theory would also account for the psalm like prayer in chapter 3.

Shigionoth seems to have been a musical reference because it occurs in Psalm 7:1. And the very end of chapter 3 of Habakkuk has the postscript – “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” That phrase is found in three Psalms  4,6 and 54.

The outline looks like this

Structure
1:1                          Heading The oracle of God which Habakkuk the prophet saw
1:2-4                      Habakkuk’s first complaint
1:5-11                    Yahweh’s first response
1:12-17                 Habakkuk’s second complaint
2:1-5                      Habakkuk waits and Yahweh’s second response
2:6-20                    Five woes against Babylon
3:1-19                    Psalm celebrating Yahweh’s victory and salvation; the prophet’s quiet rust

There is an enduring message from Habakkuk in both Judaism and Christianity. It stems from a phrase which is found in Hab 2:4
                “…the righteous shall live by his faith”   faith may also be translated “faithfulness”
                It is not clear from the context who the “his” is – is it the believers faith ie faith in God?
                                                                                                                Or is it God’s faithfulness?
                The Greek LXX has “the righteous shall live by my faith(fullness)  (That is God’s)

I have mentioned the Qumran Covenanters who had their dessert existence alongside the Dead Sea and who preserved for us the sacred scrolls we know as the Dead Sea  Scrolls. For them Habakkuk was a supremely important book and they saw their own community as the “Righteous” God’s eschatological elect community who would be led by the “Teacher of Righteousness.”.

In the New Testament the same idea of the righteous living by faith is one of the key ideas in St Paul’s theology and the beginning of his letter to the Romans explores this theme of the righteous living by faith.  

The book of Hebrews also draws attention to the idea in chapter 10:37-38 The readers of that letter are called to endurance in whatever crisis they were experiencing, because the salvation of Christ is coming.

 

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