Habakkuk-Background-September 26, 2012
It is a book about God’s desire that human beings live together in joy and security and righteousness, in a community ordered by his divine will and faithful to his divine lordship. Most of the evidence for dating the work seems to point to around 609-600 B.C. This book has its original roots in the Babylonian domination of the Palestinian land bridge.
Habakkuk is a book for all faithful people, of whatever era, who find themselves living “in the meantime”-in the time between the revelation of the promises of God and the fulfillment of those promises-in the time between their redemption, when God made his purpose clear, and the final time when that divine purpose will be realized in all the earth. It speaks of that faith and to that faith which lives in the world as it is and yet which knows that the world is not all there was or is to come.
Habakkuk’s message is heard by faith, it still speaks and shall ever speak to those of us who live “in the meantime” and who look forward to that day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,/ as the waters cover the sea” (2:14).
Some have suggested that the role of Habakkuk was that he was functioning as an intercessor for his worshiping community. Still others have suggested that the book is to be understood against the background of an autumn New Year’s festival in Israel. The prophet doesn’t pray for himself alone; his responsibility for his community rests heavily upon him (2:1).
His name may be a nickname, drawn from the Akkadian hambakuku– the name of a plant. The name appears in the Apocrypha but does not seem to in any way resemble this prophet. We know only that he was a prophet in Judah at the end of the seventh and beginning of the sixth centuries B.C. and that, in answer to his laments, he received from the Lord a “burden” (1:1 ; Isa. 13:1; Nah. 1:1)- the oracles and woes and visions now found in his book.
The initial complain has to do with the Hebrew word mishpat translated “justice.” Habakkuk’s complaint is that the people of Judah, in the reign of King Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.), have abandoned the righteous order intended by God for their society, despite the fact that they renewed their covenant with the Lord and underwent sweeping religious reform only twelve years earlier in the time of King Josiah. God revealed this desire for order through the Torah (law), her traditions of what God has done in her past life, and the ongoing guidance afforded her day by day through the preach and teaching of priests and prophets.
Things had gotten so bad that even the priests began to ignore the laws and began teaching their own opinions or the soothing words that the people wanted to hear (Jeremiah 2:8; 23:9-40). The result of abandoning of God’s mishpat in Judean society is chaos. We still today see evidence of this very thing in society. In the other case a distortion of mishpat satisfies the wicked that they are doing God’s will but that only further frustrates the righteous.
There are faithful persons in Judean society during this time, but they are helpless to reform that society. Habakkuk turns to the only source he knows for setting things right. He turns to God in prayer. So in his time and ours how do we live out our faith in the mean time?
The answer comes that God is at work and still working. God’s working leads finally to good for all creation. Babylon became a tool of God because the people had rejected God’s mishpat and so they are given back what they have done. God is able to use any of these actions for moving forward His kingdom.
Babylon is God’s punishment for Judah’s sing and was also widely mentioned as such by Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and in Isaiah. Human actions result in particular events, to be sure, but human actions are always also accompanied by God’s effective actions as he works out his purpose. This judgment will not end in their destruction, but rather their correction. He wishes to refine and purify them, so that they walk in his ways and obey his will and serve his purpose.
Habakkuk therefore asks this further question: How long, my God, are you going to allow this reversal of your purpose? How long are you going to seem to move away from your goal (1:17)? It is not the question that Habakkuk asked in the beginning (1:2). That was a question of how long God was going to put up with Judah’s wickedness.
Habakkuk longed for the end of Judah’s evil, in 1:2-4. God’s answer, in 1:5-11, promised Babylonia’s greater evil (cf. Jer. 12:1-6). The prophet’s principle questions therefore still are, When is it all going to end? Are you, O Lord, going to fulfill your purpose on the earth?