Blogging with Habakkuk (2) – Who? When? Why?

(Part 2 in a series of posts on Habakkuk.)

Today we will answer the following three questions about the prophet Habakkuk: Who was he? When did he live? Why did he write this book?

1) Who was Habakkuk?

Unlike some of the other prophets, we do not know that much about Habakkuk. His name only appears in Scripture twice, in Habakkuk 1:1 and 3:1.

Some sources outside of the Bible say he may have been from the tribe of Levi, but the Bible does not tell us one way or the other. However, chapter 3 of Habakkuk is a musical poem, and so it is possible that Habakkuk may have been one of the Levites responsible for worship in the temple.

There is an ancient book not in the Bible, called Bel and the Dragon, that mentions Habakkuk by name. The book tells how an angel of God lifted Habakkuk up by the hair and brought him to Daniel in the lion’s den to bring Daniel some food, but that is just legend without any biblical support.

At one time it was thought that Habakkuk’s name may be related to the Hebrew word for “embrace.” Although we know now that is probably not the case, Martin Luther picked up on this and wrote: “Habakkuk signifies an embracer, or one who embraces another, takes him into his arms. He embraces his people and takes them to his arms, i.e., he comforts them and holds them up, as one embraces a weeping child, to quiet it with the assurance that, if God wills, it shall soon be better.” That is actually a pretty good description of who Habakkuk is and what he does throughout this book, as he takes the comfort God gives him and shares it with the people of Israel.

2) When did Habakkuk live?

When did Habakkuk live, and when did he write this book? Once again, we do not know exactly. Some of the prophets, like Isaiah, are easy to track, because they dated their writings during the reigns of specific kings, and because they mentioned specific historical events that happened during their life time.

The one big clue we get from the book of Habakkuk is that he writes about the rising power of the Babylonians and their coming invasion of Judah. That would place these writings somewhere between 612 and 587 B.C. This would be over a hundred years after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. and soon before the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the exile of the people of Judah to Babylon in 586 B.C.

3) Why did Habakkuk write this book?

Why did Habakkuk write this book? What is the book of Habakkuk all about? It is a prophecy, of course. In particular, it is a prophecy about the coming invasion of Babylon, and how God will judge Judah for her sins. It is also a prophecy of hope, that God will treat his people justly, and that there is indeed a future hope for them despite the coming judgment.

But the book of Habakkuk is also a journey. It is very different from the other prophetical books in that the prophecy here is not given directly from prophet to people, but rather the prophecy is given as we overhear a conversation between Habakkuk and God. And in that conversation we witness Habakkuk’s own journey from questioning, doubt and confusion at the beginning of the book, to one of the strongest statements of faith, hope and confidence you will find in all of Scripture by the end of the book.

J. Vernon McGee puts it this way: “The book opens in gloom and closes in glory. It begins with a question mark and closes with an exclamation point. Habakkuk is a big WHY? Why God permits evil is a question that every thoughtful mind has faced. The book is the answer to the question: Will God straighten out the injustice of the world? This book answers the question: Is God doing anything about the wrongs of the world? This book says that He is. The book is the personal experience of the prophet told in poetry, as Jonah’s was told in prose.”

And so the story of Habakkuk is the story of the journey from doubt to faith. How did Habakkuk get there? The same way you and I may get there. He talked with God. He brought his questions and his complaints directly to God, and he hammered out the answers in prayer.

(Looking ahead: Next time we will look at Habakkuk’s three big questions that he brought to God.)

Here are the links to the whole Blogging with Habakkuk series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25.

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  1. Blogging with Habakkuk (1) at Ray Fowler .org

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