Nothing much is known about Habakkuk except for the personal qualities evident in his writing. He is the only one in Scripture with this name, and it means “one who embraces.” Various dates have been given for the writing of this book, but it was probably written between 605 BC and 597 BC, when the Babylonians invaded Judah.
Habakkuk is upset about the sins of Judah and their wickedness. Unlike Jeremiah his contemporary, Habakkuk is more concerned with God’s delay in judging Judah than the failure of the people to repent. Violence and lawlessness (lawless is not obeying the Torah) were everywhere, despite Habakkuk’s fries for God to act. Yehovah replies to him that he doesn’t have to wait long for the answer. The Chaldeans will be God’s rod of punishment to afflict Judah before Habakkuk’s very eyes. Rather than lifting his burden, it makes it worse.
Habakkuk is also bothered by a second problem: how can Yehovah, whose eyes see all the wickedness, just stand by in silence while the wicked run all over the righteous. So, Habakkuk stands on guard and awaits the answer. When it comes, it comes with one of the greatest statements in Scripture: “the just shall live by faith” or his faithfulness. The righteous will be preserved in the day of trouble because they have depended on Yehovah. Swift retribution will come upon the Babylonians who will learn that pride and idolatry destroys. As a result, God is sovereign and all the earth should be silent when he appears as the judge. Believing that righteousness (as defined by the Torah) will triumph, Habakkuk prays that God will again do a great work, like he did in the Exodus and Mount Sinai. Habakkuk pictures God’s glory and power and this reaffirms his confidence in Yehovah, which will also have eschatological implications.
v 1…The oracle (Hebrew “massa” or “burden” because it announces heavy judgments) which Habakkuk the prophet saw.
v 2…How long, O Lord (Yehovah), will I call for help (to stop the oppression of the righteous by the wicked of his own people), and thou wilt not hear (or help)? I cry out to thee, “violence (tyranny and oppression)!” Yet thou dost not save (put an end to it).
v 3…Why dost thou make me see iniquity (allowing him to see it), and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me (in his sight0, strife exists and contention arises (lifts itself up).
v 4…Therefore, the law (Torah) is ignored and justice is never upheld (in the courts, no righteous verdicts given or come forth). For the wicked surround the righteous (so that the righteous cannot cause right to succeed); therefore, justice comes out perverted (twisted, the opposite of right).
v 5…”Look among the nations (because judgment is coming from there)! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I (Yehovah) am doing something in your days you would not believe if you were told (which is the destruction of Judah, the city, the Temple and exile. Paul quotes this in relation to going to the Diaspora to bring the Basar to those scattered as a result of the Babylonian exile, and warns them with this verse not to reject it or destruction is going to come from Rome).
v 6…For behold (take note), I am raising up the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous people who march throughout the earth to seize dwelling places which are not theirs (Babylon is being raised up as a mighty, cruel, and merciless people to come against Judah).
v 7…They are dreaded and feared (their army was brave as they were cruel)! Their justice and dignity originate with themselves (they do not follow God’s justice in the Torah, but they decide what is right and wrong, and what justice is).
v 8…Their horses are swifter than leopards (attack with light, rapid movements) and keener than wolves in the evening (who go out at night looking for prey). Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swooping down to devour (this points to the threat in Deut 28.49, “Yehovah will bring against thee a nation from afar, from the end of the earth, swift as an eagle flies”-this is about to be fulfilled or given meaning).
v 9…All of them come for violence (strive for it). Their horde of faces forward. They collect captives like the sand.
v 10…They mock (scoff) at kings, and rulers are a laughing matter to them. They laugh at every fortress (ridicules all resistance that is put up before them), and heap up rubble to capture it (siege mounds).
v 11…Then they will sweep through like the wind (a hostile army-Isa 21.1, 8.8) and pass on (through the nation and their defenses). But they will be held guilty, they whose strength is their god (Babylon will think their gods gave them their power, so Yehovah will destroy them because such idolatrous concepts cannot be allowed).”
v 12…Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, my holy one? We will not die (Habakkuk as a confident hope that his people will not perish). Thou, O Lord, hast appointed them to judge (to carry out judgment against them). And thou, O rock, has established them to correct (to chastise).
v 13…Thine eyes are too pure to behold evil (he cannot be compared to it, he above it). Why dost thou look with favor on those who deal treacherously (the Babylonians)? Why art thou silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they (the Godly portion of Israel-they suffer when the wicked are punished).
v 14…Why dost thou made men like the fish of the sea (who Babylon collects in their net), like creeping things (lobsters, crabs caught in traps) without a ruler over them (to protect them from this)?
v 15…He (Babylon) brings all of them up with a hook (to take them out of the water), drag them away with their net (a large fishing net), and gather them together in their fishing net (Babylon brought home the goods, jewels, silver, gold). Therefore, they rejoice and are glad (because of what they have taken).
v 16…Therefore, they offer sacrifice to their net. And they burn incense to their fishing net (does not thank Yehovah but glories in their own power and gods-Hab 1.11); because through these things their catch is large (and attains wealth and prosperity), and their food is plentiful.
v 17…Will they, therefore, empty their net (to throw it in again and conquer another nation) and continually slay nations without sparing?