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Old Testament | Habakkuk | Summary

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Summary

  • The prophet bemoans destruction, violence, and injustice.
  • Yahweh instructs Habakkuk to be patient in waiting for justice to unfold; soon "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Yahweh" (2:14).
  • Habakkuk recalls when Yahweh marched forth to save his people from their enemies in the past (3:13) and bolsters himself to await Yahweh's justice for the present situation (3:16).
  • The book ends with a declaration of faith in the midst of dire circumstances: "Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines ... yet I will rejoice in Yahweh; I will exult in the God of my salvation" (3:17–18).

Analysis

Habakkuk portrays a prophet wrestling with the challenge of maintaining faith in the midst of troubled circumstances that appear likely to only get worse. If the traditional dating of Habakkuk to the end of the 7th century BCE is correct, this may correspond to the troubled times after the death of King Josiah (2 Kings 23). Yahweh's first reply to Habakkuk's question does not put the prophet at ease; Babylon's ascent to power would mean only more destruction and subjugation for Judah. Yahweh's second response assures Habakkuk that justice will come for Babylon but still leaves the prophet with considerable anxiety about the future.

Habakkuk's assertion of faith in the final chapter is poignant in this context. Recalling Yahweh's deliverance in the past, he asserts continued trust in spite of the present circumstances and bleak outlook. The poem Habakkuk offers as a prayer uses traditional poetic language for Yahweh marching forth from Teman in the south as a warrior deity. Similar language in Deuteronomy 33:2–3, Judges 5:4–5, and Psalm 68:7–8 associates this march specifically with Mount Sinai, where the covenant between Yahweh and Israel is established and the law given to Moses (Exodus).

The statement "the righteous live by their faith" in Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted several times in the Christian New Testament (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38) in discussions of the relative values of faith and "works of the law." Although the expression resonated with the rhetoric of those texts, such a dichotomy between "faith" and "works" is not present in the original context of Habakkuk 2:4, where the contrast being made is between the wicked and the righteous, both of whom are identified by their actions.

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