Introduction to Habakkuk

Study notes ▪ 2017
Tags: Habakkuk; Judah; Babylon


Habakkuk, a prophet who is mentioned only in the book bearing his name (1:1; 3:1)


625-605 BC
  • Conservative commentators date Habakkuk’s prophecy to the reigns of several of the later kings of Judah. Proposed dates generally fall within the seventh century BC, mostly toward the end of this period.
  • Patterson notes three dates commonly proposed by evangelical scholars: the reign of the evil king Manasseh, which ended in 643 BC; the reign of Jehioakim, leading up to 605 BC; and the earlier part of Josiah’s reign, before the reforms that began in 621 BC. He favors the first of these three proposals (666).
  • Geisler offers a range of 620-605 BC (231). Armerding places Habakkuk “just before or after the destruction of Nineveh by the Babylonians and their allies in 612 B.C.” (584). According to Merrill, “the description of moral and civil anarchy fits very well the early years of Jehoiakim (608-605) just before the evils of Judah brought divine intervention in the form of Nebuchadnezzar” (455).

Kings Mentioned  

Judah: None
Israel: None

Nation(s) Targeted

  • Judah, as inferred from the prophet’s devotion to Yahweh (e.g., 1:2; 1:12; 3:18); the book’s continuity with Israel’s history (e.g., 3:3), faith (e.g., 1:4; 2:18-20), and worship (e.g., 1:12; 3:19); and a date of composition that follows the fall of the northern kingdom
  • Babylonia, as evidenced by an overt reference to the Chaldeans (1:6),  allusions to the empire’s military prowess (e.g., 1:7-10; 1:17; 2:8), and foresight of a coming invasion of the prophet’s land (3:16)
Secondary: None

Representative Texts

1:1-7; 1:12-13; 1:17; 2:2-4; 2:8; 2:12-14; 2:18-3:4; 3:12-13; 3:16-19

Core Message

Yahweh’s people are guilty of perverting justice and failing to observe the law. Habakkuk complains that God has inexplicably tolerated their wrongdoing. Yahweh responds by assuring the prophet that he will imminently dispense justice by the hands of the Chaldeans, a vicious military force. The prophet objects: How can the Lord justify mobilizing a merciless and violent nation to correct his people’s waywardness?

Over time Habakkuk learns that faith/faithfulness sustains one in the midst of trying circumstances. Yahweh will eventually see to it that the Chaldeans suffer retribution; their judgment will be carried out by the remnants of the nations that they have ravaged. In the midst of this the Lord will work to make himself known as the living God who, unlike idols, is worthy of reverence. The prophet resolves to fear God and wait patiently for him to act. His confidence is rooted in Yahweh’s past actions—namely, the establishment and preservation of Israel. Therefore, Habakkuk determines to rejoice in God even in the absence of advantageous conditions.

New Testament References[1]

  • 1:5 (Acts 13:41)
  • 2:3-4 (Heb. 10:37-38)
  • 2:4 (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11)


In chapter 2 Yahweh responds to Habakkuk’s complaint about the Chaldeans by assuring him of their eventual demise. Verses 6-20 consist of five woes, each three verses long (Patterson 670-71). Collectively, these woes indict the Babylonian invaders as greedy, violent, treacherous, and idolatrous. More importantly, they emphasize that the Lord is in control of the Chaldeans’ destiny, and that he will turn the events of history to make himself known.

Chapter 3 is a psalm that extols Yahweh’s majesty and power. Its language and geographic references are reminiscent of other Old Testament texts that narrate or celebrate God’s intervention in Israel’s history. For example, commentators have noted similarities between Habakkuk 3 and poetic sources such as Deuteronomy 32-33, Judges 5, and Psalm 18 (Ferguson 320; Patterson 672; Blue 1520).


Armerding, Carl Edwin. “Habakkuk.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, fully revised, vol. 2, Eerdmans, 1982, pp. 583-86.
Beale, G. K., and D. A. Carson, eds. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Baker Academic, 2007.
Blue, J. Ronald. “Habakkuk.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Chariot Victor, 1985, pp. 1505-22.
Ferguson, Paul. “Habakkuk, Theology of.” Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, edited by Walter A. Elwell, Baker Books, 2000, pp. 320-21.
Geisler, Norman L. A Popular Survey of the Old Testament. Baker Book House, 1977.
Merrill, Eugene H. Kingdom of Priests: A History of Old Testament Israel. Baker Books, 1996.
Patterson, R. D. “Habakkuk.” Baker Commentary on the Bible, edited by Walter A. Elwell, Baker Books, 2000, pp. 666-73.

[1] New Testament citations of texts from Habakkuk were identified in part by consulting Beale and Carson’s Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.

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