“The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw” (v. 1).- Habakkuk 1:1–11
Of all the prophets of the old covenant, perhaps none today suffers from more neglect in relation to his importance for the New Testament than Habakkuk. Though his prophecy is one of the briefest in the Old Testament, Habakkuk gives essential revelation regarding our righteous standing before God. Habakkuk 2:4—“the righteous shall live by his faith”—is key to the Apostolic view of justification by faith alone (Rom. 1:16–17; Gal. 3:11), and also vital for Hebrews’ teaching on perseverance (Heb. 10:32–39).
Habakkuk spoke about justification in a historical context that must be understood if he is to be interpreted rightly. He prophesied during the last quarter of the seventh century BC, as seen in his reference to the Chaldeans’ rise (Hab. 1:6). During that century and earlier, control of the city of Babylon alternated between the Assyrians and tribes that lived near the metropolis. In 626 BC, however, the Chaldean prince Nabopolasser became ruler of Babylon and broke from Assyria. From then until 539 BC, when the Persians conquered the city, Babylon was the major Near Eastern power. Scripture uses Chaldeans and Babylonians interchangeably, as the Chaldeans were a tribe based in the region near Babylon between northern Arabia and the Persian Gulf, and they were the Babylonian Empire’s best-known rulers during the prophetic era.
We know little about Habakkuk, though his use of the title prophet may indicate he was a professional prophet who served in Jerusalem’s temple (v. 1; see 2 Chron. 18). Yet unlike many of the professional “prophets,” Habakkuk served God, noting clearly when His law was broken and His justice perverted (Hab. 1:2–4). He apparently ministered during the reign of King Jehoiakim, King Josiah’s son, whom the Egyptians had established in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 36:1–4). Jehoiakim was wicked, and Jerusalem suffered the incursions of Babylon during his reign (vv. 5–8). Jeremiah also prophesied at this time, and he records Jehoiakim’s bloodthirstiness and dishonesty (Jer. 22:11–30; 26).
Habakkuk complains about Jehoiakim’s evil and the complicity of Judah’s ruling class in today’s passage. His complaints are heart-wrenching, flowing from the lips of one who saw the wicked prospering and wondered if perhaps the Lord had forgotten His righteous servants (Hab. 1:2–4). As we will see in the days ahead, God knew of Judah’s injustice quite well, but His answer to it was not what Habakkuk expected.
When we see the wicked prospering and God’s people suffering, we may think the Lord is too slow in responding to the evil we are enduring. Yet God always works in His time, and He sometimes works in ways we do not expect. We can be sure that God has not forgotten us when He seems slow to respond, and we can know that even if He does the unexpected, it is for His glory and our good (Rom. 8:28). All this is true because He is sovereign in His goodness and holiness.
Passages for Further Study
2 Kings 23:31–24:7