Grace Windows


The Grace Institute

Grace Community Fellowship

November 2, 1995

The Style & Structure of Habakkuk


The Dialog

Habakkuk is rare among the prophets. He is the only one who asks God, “Why?” While the Psalms are full of speculation and questioning of the LORD, Habakkuk stands as the only prophet who wonders how the circumstances around Him can be reconciled with God’ s character.

The result is a rare look at a dialog between a prophet and Yahweh. All the other prophets only record a one way communication from God to them. Here God responds specifically to Habakkuk’s questions and assures him that He is in control and that “vengean ce is Mine.”

The Prayer

Also rare among the prophets, is the Psalm, recorded as a prayer in chapter 3. While many of the prophetic messages are in poetic form, this prayer is different in that it has musical notes and dedication. Verses 3, 9, & 13 contain the annotation, “Selah, ” amd then ends with the dedication to the chief musician in the temple and a note that it is to be played with stringed instruments. Both of these are familiar annotations seen in the book of Psalms It appears that this prayer is a song to be sung.


The Dialog With God (Chapters 1-2)

The First Question (1:2-4)

Habakkuk asks God why He is not punishing the evil in Judah. The violence and atrocities have become so bad that the law is powerless to stop it, and justice never prevails.

The First Answer (1:5-11)

God responds with an interesting statement in verse 5:

(Habakkuk 1:5 NASB) ""Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days-- You would not believe if you were told."

God is telling Habakkuk, “You’re not going to believe this one.” This was going to be difficult to believe because God had chosen the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to be the agent of His punishment against Judah. This would have been astounding to Habakkuk for two reasons:

At the time, the Babylonians were not considered likely candidates to take control of Judah. While it seems Habakkuk was written after the Babylonians had already risen in strength militarily, it also seems that Habakkuk was written before the reforms of Josiah. This would have placed the timing before the Battle of Charchemish and the defeat of the Egyptians at the hand of the Babylonians. Very likely the people of Judah did not expect Babylon to be a threat because of the strength of Egypt.

Babylon was known for it atrocities. As we see in Habakkuk’s second question of God, it would be astounding that God would use such an evil nation as His agent.

The Second Question (1:12-2:1)

Habakkuk knows God’s character and can not believe that the Holy One could use such an evil nation as His agent. He questions how the Chaldeans can be allowed to destroy “one more righteous than he.” The question of God’s justice has not been solved. The wicked continue to prevail under the LORD’s scenario, proving the greater evil results in a greater reward. Habakkuk asks, ”Shall they...continue to slay nations without pity?”

The Second Answer (2:2-2:20)

The LORD responds by asking Habakkuk to trust Him and to trust that the wicked will receive their punishment. God demonstrates this through the issuance of five woes:

The Woes (Chapter 2)

Woe to Plundering (2:6-8)

Woe to those that steal, extort, and plunder the nations. They will be plundered.

Woe to the Greedy (2:9-11)

Woe to those covet evil gain so that he can avoid disaster. They shall receive disaster.

Woe to the Violent (2:12-14)

Woe to those who build towns with bloodshed. The towns will be destroyed by fire. (This is a natural consequence, not of the LORD’s doing)

Woe to the Immoral (2:15-17)

Woe to the drunken and sexually immoral. They will be shamed.

Woe to the Idolater (2:18-20)

Woe to him who trusts idols. They will be silent.

The Prayer (Chapter 3)

Habakkuk’s Request (3:2)

Habakkuk’s prayer begins with a request. He admits his fear, and asks God to “revive the work” and remember mercy. He wants to see God work the way He had in the past, and to be merciful to the faithful in the midst of this judgment.

The LORD’s revelation (3:3-16)

The LORD reveals himself to Habakkuk, reminding him of the time when He ministered to the nation of Israel in the Exodus. Verse 4 reminds Habakkuk of the glory of the LORD on Mt. Sinai. Verse 5 shows the plagues of Egypt. Verse 7 declares how God defeated their enemies.

(Habakkuk 3:13 NASB) "Thou didst go forth for the salvation of Thy people, For the salvation of Thine anointed. Thou didst strike the head of the house of the evil To lay him open from thigh to neck. "

Habakkuk’s Comfort (3:17-19)

In marked contrast to Habakkuk’s struggle in the beginning of the book, the ending psalm concludes with Habakkuk’s trust and comfort in the LORD. He rejoices in the salvation of Yahweh, and in the strength that He brings.

The Message of Habakkuk

The Justice of God

As discussed above, Habakkuk was unusual among the prophets in that he questions God’s justice. But God demonstrated to Habakkuk that his justice was sure. Judah would receive its due, as would the Chaldeans. What he required of Habakkuk was faith.

(Habakkuk 2:4 NASB) ""Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith."

When God appears to be ignoring the situation, when the wicked seem to have the upper hand, God asked Habakkuk to trust in Him. He is just and righteous (2:13). We must hold on to what we know about God and realize that He will make all right in the end. Habakkuk knew this, for God promised it nearly 1,000 years before in Deuteronomy:

(Deuteronomy 32:35-43 NASB) "'Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, In due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.' [36] "For the LORD will vindicate His people, And will have compassion on His servants; When He sees that their strength is gone, And there is none remaining, bond or free. [37] "And He will say, 'Where are their gods, The rock in which they sought refuge? [38] 'Who ate the fat of their sacrifices, And drank the wine of their libation? Let them rise up and help you, Let them be your hiding place! [39] 'See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have w ounded, and it is I who heal; And there is no one who can deliver from My hand. [40] 'Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven, And say, as I live forever, [41] If I sharpen My flashing sword, And My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, And I will repay those who hate Me. [42] 'I will make My arrows drunk with blood, And My sword shall devour flesh, With the blood of the slain and the captives, From the long-haired leaders of the enemy.' [43] "Rejoice, O nations, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And will render vengeance on His adversaries, And will atone for His land and His people.""

The Futility of Idolatry

Woe to Idolaters

The futility of idolatry is shown clearly in the final woe. Those that make idols will come to realize that there is not strength of power in them. This seems an obvious point which could be easily proven. But Habakkuk shows us that the idolatry of the Ch aldeans goes beyond the worship of statues. Their idolatry is much deeper.

Worshipping their Own Strength

The Chaldeans attributed their success to their own gods, and in doing, made their own strength their god.

(Habakkuk 1:11 NASB) ""Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, They whose strength is their god.""

The New King James Version states that they “impute this power to his god.” In light of the verses to come as well as what we know of the Babylonian religion, this may be the more technically true statement. Yet, in a sense, the NIV’s translation is at is the essence of what they are doing. They are not recognizing who gave them their ability to conquer. Rather they are trusting in and giving credit to their own abilities.

Notice how Habakkuk contrasts this idolatry with his proclamation in verse12, “O LORD my God, my Holy One.” He describes God before further showing how the Chaldeans steal the credit from Yahweh and attribute their success to their own god.

Habakkuk then describes the Chaldeans as fishermen in verse 15, who gather the nations in their nets. But then they give credit not to the LORD. Rather,

(Habakkuk 1:16 NASB) "Therefore, they offer a sacrifice to their net. And burn incense to their fishing net; Because through these things their catch is large, And their food is plentiful."

This is the root of all idolatry: giving the credit which is owed to Yahweh to another, and trusting in their own strength and abilities rather than in God.

“...a nation that had made power and success it god (1:11) had advanced to the ultimate stage of idolatry. To turn human attributes and achievements into idols that are worshipped is the greatest defiance of the true and truly sovereign God.”

This is the form of idolatry our culture faces. Giving credit due God and attributing that to our own strength, knowledge, and abilities. It is a trap that even Christians fall into when we take the credit for even the good things we accomplish. In its pu re form, this is nothing but idolatry.

Habakkuk’s View of God

In the prayer of chapter 3, God reveals himself and his works to Habakkuk in response to his request in verse 2. “O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known.” The prayer is a description of this re velation and gives us a clear picture of who God is:


As discussed above, Habakkuk also gives a description of God before his second question.

Other Habakkuk Links

The Grace Institute is a three year course of study offered at Grace Community Fellowship taking a deeper look at the scriptures, doctrine, and ministry. These notes are from the Winter 1998 semester class, Survey of Old Testament Prophets. This class was taught by Ken Carson, an elder at Grace Community Fellowship.

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