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The Minor Prophets: Habakkuk, part 1

11 Jul

This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.

WHO IS HABAKKUK?

We know very little about Habakkuk. There are some Jewish traditions about who he may have been, but we know almost nothing about him. Habakkuk identifies himself as a prophet at the beginning of the book, rather than saying that God had given him a message to speak, which suggests he held the official office of prophet. Therefore, many people believe he was a temple prophet – that he was a Levite who ministered in the temple at Jerusalem. It is possible that the third chapter was written at a separate time, but if it was written at the same time, by the same person, that lends more credibility to the theory that Habakkuk ministered in the temple. (There is a notation at the end “to the director of music” saying that the song is to be perfomed “on my string instruments”.)

WHEN WAS HABAKKUK WRITTEN?

Although nothing is certain, scholars have made some educated guesses based on the contents of the text. Due to the condition of Israel Habakkuk describes it was unlikely written during Josiah’s reign, which was a time of spiritual renewal in Israel. Josiah died in 609 BC and was succeeded by king Jehoiakim (609-598 BC). Habakkuk also speaks of the Chaldeans, which gives us another clue. The Chaldeans were a people group from Southern Babylon who became rulers of the Babylonian empire following the battle of Carchemish in 605. Since Habakkuk speaks of the Chaldeans, not the Babylonians, the book was probably written before this time. That gives us an approximate date of 607 BC.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

If this book was written in 607 BC, it came two years after the death of Josiah. Josiah’s reign was marked by a return to God, a renewal of faith and service. The kings who followed returned Israel to evil ways.

  • 609 BC – King Josiah died in battle against the Egyptians; 23 year old Jehoahaz is made king, but three months later is deposed by Pharaoh Neco, who makes 25 year old Eliakim king of Judah, changing his name to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim pays taxes to Egypt throughout his reign (II Kings 23:29-37; II Chronicles 35:20-36:8)
  • 607 BC – Approximate date of Habakkuk
  • 605 BC – The Battle of Carchemish (Chaldeans rise up to rule the Neo-Babylonian empire)
  • 598 BC – The Babylonians march toward Jerusalem; King Jehoiakim  dies; 8 year old Jehoiachin takes the throne. Within three months Nebuchadnezzar takes the city, takes Jehoiachin captive back to Babylon, and makes Mattanaiah king (changing his name to Zedekiah). (II Kings 24:1-17; II Chronicles 36:9-14)
  • 586 BC –Jerusalem and the temple are destroyed by the Babylonians. Many of the Jews are killed or taken to Babylon as captives (including king Zedekiah). Those left behind to live in the ruins intermarry with other nations; these people become the Samaritans. (II Kings 25; II Chronicles 36:15-23 – the history books end here).


Habakkuk was writing to a people who had abandoned the ways of God pretty much as soon as Josiah died. If he really was a minister in the temple, this must have been difficult to watch. He would have been in the temple when it was really the centre of worship, where God was honoured properly, as the Law prescribed. To then serve a king who had no care for the Lord, to see the people ignoring the newly re-discovered Law, must have been heartbreaking.

WHAT IS HABAKKUK ABOUT?

A unique feature of Habakkuk is the way he questions God directly – and rather than be rebuked, is answered. It’s not a message from God to his people, but a record of a candid conversation between Habakkuk and God.  In essence, the book is about Habakkuk asking what God’s going to do about all the evil happening in Judah, and why he doesn’t wipe out the evil outside Judah. The book then finishes with a song of praise to the Lord.

STRUCTURE

There are five sections in Habakkuk:

  1. Habakkuk’s first complaint (Habakkuk 1:1-4)
  2. God’s response (Habakkuk 1:5-11)
  3. Habakkuk’s second complaint (Habakkuk 1:12-2:1)
  4. God’s response (the rest of chapter 2)
  5. Habakkuk’s song of praise (Chapter 3)
Section 1 – Habakkuk 1:1-4

KEY VERSE:
“Why do you tolerate wrong?” (verse 3)
“Therefore the law is paralysed and justice never prevails.” (verse 4)

This section is one long “why?!” from Habakkuk to God. Many scholars seem convinced that in this section Habakkuk is referring to injustices and sin happening within Israel, not sin in the nations around them. He sees injustice all around him. He wants to know why God hasn’t stepped in to fix things. Habakkuk’s point seems to be that if God tolerates wrongdoing, the law is useless. If God’s blessing remains with those who no longer follow his ways, justice will never be done. Without consequences, what’s the point in having the law at all?

  1. Have you ever seen negative consequences to overly lenient treatment (a lack of punishment)?
  2. How do you feel about an authority figure (parent, teacher, boss etc) who lets you escape fair punishment?
  3. Habakkuk didn’t understand God’s leniency. With the benefit of hindsight, do you have an idea why God chose not to act earlier?

Section 2 – Habakkuk 1:5-11

KEY VERSE: “I am going to do something that you would not believe even if you were told.” (verse 5)

God is going to use people of another nation, an evil people, to dispense his judgment on Israel? Unbelievable! Habakkuk may have wanted to see justice done in Israel, but I’m sure this isn’t what he had in mind.  Still, God is clear. HE is doing this – it’s a part of the plan, whether Habakkuk can believe it or not. In fact, it’s an answer to Habakkuk’s prayer for justice to be done.

All the same, I can imagine Habakkuk hearing God speak the words above and doing a complete double-take. “That can’t possibly be right. Our enemies, who have no respect for you whatsoever, will be your agents to enact justice on our people. Are you crazy??”

Well, maybe that wasn’t his reaction. Mine might have been similar, though! I’ve reacted like that to some of the crazy twists God’s brought along in my life. Still, I’m glad I don’t understand God all the time. I’m glad his thoughts are higher that mine, his plans more long term than mine, his love fiercer than mine.

Any God who I could totally work out wouldn’t be worth following.

  1. Can you think of a time when God answered your prayers in a way you didn’t like?
  2. Describe a time when your life wasn’t going according to plan.
  3. What helps you trust God when life doesn’t look the way you think it should?
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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Bible Resources

 

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3 responses to “The Minor Prophets: Habakkuk, part 1

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