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A Study in Habakkuk

Written by: Robert Paterson    Posted on: 03/06/2003

Category: Bible Studies

Source: Robert Paterson

                        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. 1515)

    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)

    OUTLINE     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 straight."

    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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