A Study in Habakkuk
AUTHOR: Robert Paterson
PUBLISHED ON: March 6, 2003
DOC SOURCE: Robert Paterson
PUBLISHED IN: Bible Studies

                        A STUDY in HABAKKUK
                        by Robert Patterson

    The Hebrew word massa, a burden, comes from the verb meaning “to lift
up”. It does not necessarily mean “burden”, but can also mean “oracle” or
message from God. Habakkuk, indeed, saw a burden which he lifted up to God.
(The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1508)

    Is this burden Habakkuk saw a vision of the wickedness of the nations
surrounding Judah or a vision of the wickedness within Judah? John Calvin
maintains that the burden was in light of the evil of his own people, because
they had resisted God’s prophets in vain and that God would punish them for
their sins. “‘How long’, he says, ‘shall I cry on account of violence?’ that
is, When all things are in desorder, when there is now no regard for equity
and justice, but men abandon themselves, as it were with loose reins, unto all
kinds of wickedness, how long, Lord, wilt thou take no notice?” (Calvin’s
Commentaries, Vol. XV, 17)

    This passage teaches us, that all who really serve and love God should
burn with holy indignation whenever they see wickedness reigning without
restraint among men, and especially in the church of God. (Calvin’s
Commentaries. Vol. XV, 18)

    God answers Habakkuk in 1:5-11 by using the Chaldeans to discipline the
people of Judah. Habakkuk’s dilemna then changes to “Why do You use a people
who are even more wicked to discipline Judah?” (1:13b) The key question is
stated in 1:13. Calvin suggests that Habakkuk is reasoning with himself rather
than questioning God’s goodness. He is honestly struggling with the concept of
God’s sovereignty. He cannot see clearly how God could allow the wicked to
prosper and oppress the righteous. (Calvin’s Commentaries. Vol. XV, 46-48)

    God’s answer in 2:2-20 is that Babylon would be puneshed for her
wickedness. There are five “woes” in chapter two, (6,9,12,15,19), all directed
at Babylon. God states that all the nations Babylon conquered would, in turn,
witness her downfall because of God’s judgment.(Bible Knowledge Commentary.

    In Chapter three, Habakkuk regains his perspective. Recognizing God’s
judgment on Judah by wicked Babylon, then seeing God’s terrible judgment of
Babylon, Habakkuk riplies that he is terrified of God. At last he sees God’s
sovereign control in the judgment of the nations. He recognizes God’s power
and authority. (Calvin’s Commentaries. Vol. XV, 135)

    The prophet finishes his book on a completely different note than he
began it. In 3:17-19 Habakkuk reveals that “ever in the midst of absolute ruin
and abject famine . . . The prophet was prepared to trust God. He realized
that inward peace did not depend on outward prosperity. (Bible Knowledge
Commentary. 1521)

    “We may gather a most useful doctrine, — That whenever signs of God’s
wrath meet us in outward things, this remedy remains to us — to consider what
God is to us inwardly; for the inward joy, which faith brings to us, can
overcome all fears, terrors, sorrows and anxieties.” Calvin’s Commentaries.
Vol. XV, 175)

    I.  We question, God answers (1:1 – 2:20)
        A.  We doubt God’s justice (1:1-4)
            1.  He allows sin to increase (1:2-3)
            2.  He allows justice to be perverted (1:4)
        B.  God reveals His discipline (1:5-11)
            1.  Stunning judgment (1:5)
            2.  Uses the wicked in His judgment (1:6-11)
        C.  We question God’s sovereignty (1:12 – 2:1)
            1.  We acknowledge God’s purity (1:12-13a)
            2.  We question God’s apparent apathy (1:13b)
            3.  We question God’s choices (1:14 – 2:1)
        D.  God reveals Himself in His judgment (2:2-20)
            1.  Its certainty (2:2-3)
            2.  To the haughty (2:4-5)
            3.  To the greedy (2:6-8)
            4.  To the cheater (2:9-11)
            5.  To the violent (2:12-14)
            6.  To the stumbling block (2:15-17)
            7.  To the idolater (2:18-19)
            8.  To all people (2:20)
    II.  We repent before God’s power and glory (3:1-16)
        A.  In view of the person of God (3:1-2)
            1.  His power (3:2a)
            2.  His wrath (3:2b)
        B.  In view of the presence of God (3:3-16)
            1.  In His judgment of nature (3:3-11)
            2.  In His judgment of nations (3:12-15)
            3.  In His judgment of individuals (3:16)
  III.  We rejoice in God’s provision (3:17-19)
        A.  Even though we do not prosper (3:17-18a)
        B.  He is our salvation (3:18b)
        C.  He is our strength (3:19a)
        D.  He is our guidance (3:19b)


    The protagonist in this book is God. Habakkuk plays a supporting role. 
The main emphasis is on God’s character using Habakkuk as the tool to reveal
that character.

    The plot of Habakkuk is based on a conflict, not in God’s character, but
in our perception of His character. In the opening Habakkuk is questioning
God’s delay in judging the sinfulness of Judah. God’s stunning answer sets him
back. The plot is developed further by Habakkuk’s pondering God’s use of
wicked Babylon to judge Judah. It is completed by God revealing Himself and
his almighty power in judging the sins of Judah, Babylon and the whole world,
causing Habakkuk to repent and gain a perspective of God’s total control of
all circumstance.

    The character development of God is complex. God is certainly portrayed
as a round character. When questioned concerning His delay in judging Judah,
God’s reply in 1:6 is “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce
and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places
which are not theirs.” The irony in God’s plan shocks Habakkuk. It is irony of
situation for Habakkuk, a discrepancy what he expects of God and what God
actually does. Here is a terribly wicked people —  why should they “swallow
up” Judah? In chapter three God shows further His judgment on all the world,
resulting in Habakkuk’s repentance in verse 16. Just as in Job, God had no
need and saw no reason to justify His actions before man. He is anything but a
stock character. In fact He is not even a “stock” God as many would have Him
to be.

    The theme of Habakkuk is found in 3:17-19 where he comes to the
conclusion that despite all outward appearances of poverty and despair, the
Lord is everything he needs. Another statement on the theme would be Proverbs
3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own
understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths

    The point of view is entirely objective since Habakkuk is either speaking
himself or quoting God. It is a dialogue from beginning to end. This is
particularly effective since we do not often see a direct dialogue with God
frequently in the scriptures, especially in the context of questioning God’s
sovereign choices in judging sin.

    Habakkuk is definately an interpretive story. He has hard questions with
no simplistic answers. God makes no excuses for His actions, He does not need
to justify Himself. The book is a refreshing slap in the face to Christians
who want to know God in a deeper way.

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