Habakkuk was a prophet in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, right before its destruction by the Babylonians. The world in which Habakkuk lived was full of injustice and idolatry, and the book of Habakkuk is a compilation of the prophet’s laments to God.
Habakkuk’s writings read more like a dialogue between him and God rather than a sermon or a poem. The prophet’s writings are not accusations against Israel and its sin or messages to the people on God’s behalf.
Instead, Habakkuk questions God by writing laments, or in some translations of the Bible, complaints. His laments are similar to the lament poems in Psalms, and are about his personal struggle to reconcile God’s goodness and all the evil and injustice in the world.
In his first lament, Habakkuk asks God why He has not done anything about the violence, injustice and corruption in Israel. He wonders why God has allowed the people of Israel to reject Him.
God replies that He will use the Babylonians, “a cruel and violent people” (Habakkuk 1:6 NLT) to judge Israel for its neglect of God and His commands.
Habakkuk doesn’t understand why God would use an even more violent, ungodly and corrupt nation like Babylon to judge Israel.
God replies that all nations who reject God will be held accountable. God reminds Habakkuk that His justice does not play favorites, and that all who put their trust in themselves or idols, rather than God, will not be able to withstand His judgment. Even mighty Babylon will be brought down by the hand of God.
But those who are righteous will live by their faith in God (Habakkuk 2:4).
God lists five “woes” against the Babylonians. These are characteristics or behaviors that are displeasing to God and show Babylon’s rejection of God.
1. They create unjust economies, where the rich get richer and the poor stay poor.
2. They build great palaces for the rich with money from the poor.
3. They institute slave labor to build cities and palaces for the rich.
4. Their leaders abuse alcohol and act irresponsibly, and waste their time and money on extravagant parties.
5. They worship idols and attribute all of their wealth and success to themselves.
After God responds, Habakkuk records a prayer.
Habakkuk pleads with God to do with Babylon what He has done with other oppressive nations (i.e. Egypt, Moab, Philistia).
Habakkuk compares the ancient exodus and a future exodus when God defeats evil, brings justice and rescues all the oppressed.
This promise from God is where Habakkuk finds his hope.
The book ends with Habakkuk’s words of hope.
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
Corrupt nations: Throughout the book, Babylon is an example of any nation that exalts itself above God and practices injustice, violence and idolatry. In the end, God reminds Habakkuk and every generation that God will deal with evil. We can continue to love and trust His timing and plan as we remain faithful to Him.
HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?
Habakkuk’s prayers to God remind the reader of the assurance of God’s faithfulness.
Even though Habakkuk will never live to see God’s justice against to oppressive Babylonians, and even though he is reluctant to understand why God would use such a cruel nation to bring justice to Israel, He still trusts in God’s goodness because he believes God is who He says He is.
He looks back on God’s faithfulness and justice when He brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and He knows God’s character.
Habakkuk serves as an example that when we know God and are confident in who He is, we can trust Him, even when we don’t fully understand or see the light at the end of the tunnel.