Philippe R. Sterling
The righteous live by faith in the face of God’s righteous judgments toward His people and the nations.
Habakkuk is a prophet who only appears in this book of the Old Testament. We only know his name and profession. He may have lived through the reforms of Josiah in Judah (640 – 609 BC). He likely published this oracle during the reign of Jehoiakim in a time of political, moral and spiritual degeneration (609 – 598 BC). He would have seen the collapse of the Assyrian Empire and the ascendency of the Babylonian Empire. The New Testament cites passages from the book four times (Acts 13:40-41; Rom. 1:16-17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:37-38).
Literary Structure and Content
1st Superscription (1:1): The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw.
Oracle (1:2—2:20): Habakkuk dialogues with God concerning God’s justice.
The oracle (burden) is made up of two prophetic protests and two divine responses.
A. Habakkuk’s 1st Protest (1:2-4): A perplexed Habakkuk asks God why He allows injustice to prevail in Judah.
B. God’s 1st Response (1:5-11): God replies that He is going to judge Judah by bringing the Chaldeans against them.
God is going to do a wondrous work of judgment in Habakkuk’s day. The Apostle Paul applies this passage to God’s wondrous work of judgment on Israel for rejecting Christ in his day (see Acts 13:40-41).
God is going to judge Judah by bringing the Chaldeans against them. They are a proud and ruthless people who sweep through the earth to take what is not theirs. Their authority originates from themselves and their own strength is their god. God will hold them accountable.
C. Habakkuk’s 2nd Protest (1:12—2:1): A troubled Habakkuk asks how God can use an even more unrighteous
nation to judge His people and stations himself to watch for God’s answer and consider how he might further reply
Habakkuk likens the Chaldeans to fishermen. They gather nations as fish in the sea with a net. They then worship the net.
D. God’s 2nd Response (2:2-20): God replies that He will also judge the Chaldeans for their wickedness and instructs
Habakkuk to wait for the appointed time of the fulfillment of the vision and live by faith.
1. Wait: God instructs Habakkuk to record the vision that he might warn the people and then wait for the
appointed time of its fulfillment (2-3).
The vision concerns God’s deliverance of Israel from its enemy. The fulfillment of the vision is for an appointed time. Though it should tarry, it will be on time. The Septuagint has the wording of 2:3b as “though he should tarry, wait for him; for he will surely come, and will not tarry.” Hebrews 10:37 applies the Septuagint text of Hab. 2:3b to the Second Coming of Christ.
2. Live by Faith: God states that the righteous will live by his faith in contrast to the proud one whose soul is not
3. Taunt Song: The nations will take up a taunt song against the Chaldeans made up of five woes for wicked
behavior then all the earth will be silent before the LORD (6-20).
a. Theft (6-8): Woe to him who increases what is not his. He will be looted.
b. Unjust Gain (9-11): Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house. He is sinning against himself.
c. Violence (12-14): Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed. He toils for nothing for the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the LORD.
d. Drunkenness (15-17): Woe to you who makes your neighbors drunk. You will be disgraced for the cup in
the LORD’s hand will come around to you.
e. Idolatry (18-19). Woe to him who says to a piece of wood, “Awake”. There is no profit in it.
The LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him. (20)
The five woes primarily apply to the Chaldeans. But they also bear upon the wickedness of the leaders and people of Judah and that of any people.
2nd Superscription (3:1): A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.
Habakkuk offers prayer with deep feeling. Shigionoth indicates great degree of feeling.
Prayer (3:2-19): Habakkuk petitions God for mercy, proclaims God’s coming in majesty and overcoming power, and prescribes faith in the midst of dire circumstances.
A. Petition (2): Habakkuk asks God to remember mercy in the midst of wrath.
Habakkuk heard the report about God and feared. He petitions God for renewal as in times past. He petitions God to “in wrath remember mercy”. Wrath and mercy are the twin themes of the book.
B. Theophany (3-15): God comes in majesty and power to deliver His people and destroy their enemies.
1. The Holy One comes to judge the nations (3-7).
This section and the next section detail the vision spoken of in 2:3. This may be a preview of the coming Christ. He is the Holy One who comes in glory to judge the nations (see Rev. 19:11-16).
2. The LORD delivers His people (8-15).
The LORD comes for the deliverance of Israel as He has many times in the past. God’s anointed (Christ or Messiah) brings salvation (3:13a). He strikes the head of the house of evil (3:13b; cf. Gen. 3:15).
C. Faith (16-19a): Habakkuk affirms faith in God in the midst of dire circumstances.
Note Habakkuk’s initial emotional state: heart pounded, lips quivered, body trembled. His nation will be invaded. The invading nation will in turn encounter calamity. His emotional state then changes. He will wait quietly for the day of distress. He now trusts God for His judgments and dealings with both his nation and the Chaldeans.
There will be total national devastation. The harvest of the fig tree, grape vine, olive tree, and fields will all fail; the sheep and cattle will all disappear. Habakkuk decides to make God his joy. God is his salvation. God is his strength. God will make his feet like hinds’ feet and enable him to live in precipitous places.
Postscript (3:19b): For the choir director on my stringed instruments.
Theological Reflection and Application
The Apostle Paul uses Hab. 2:4 to encourage believers to draw upon the power of God to live from faith to faith (Rom. 1:16, 17). We begin the Christian life by being justified by faith (Gal. 3:11) and we continue to live by faith. The author of Hebrews also cites Hab. 2:3-4 to encourage a life of faith in light of the coming of Christ (10:37-38). Believers need to live by faith until the return of Jesus.
The book of Hebrews equates the ultimate fulfillment of Habakkuk’s vision with the suffering of believers in the world and the coming of Christ to reward the ones who live by faith (10:32-38). Until then the Lord says, “My righteous one shall live by faith”. The Lord will first come to meet believers in the air at the rapture and then return with them to deliver Israel, judge the nations and establish the Messianic kingdom (see 1 Thess. 4:13-17; Rev. 19:11-16).