Introduction to the Book of Habakkuk

Why does God allow injustice?

Habakkuk
Habakkuk, Painting by James Tissot. SuperStock / Getty Images

The Old Testament book of Habakkuk, written 2,600 years ago, is yet another ancient Bible text that has startling relevance for people today. One of the books of the minor prophets, Habakkuk records a dialogue between the prophet and God. It begins with a series of difficult questions expressing Habakkuk's deep doubts and concerns over the unchecked evil in his society.

Question for Reflection

At one time or another, most of us have wished for a face-to-face question-and-answer session with God. We have some secret grievance or nagging doubt regarding God’s conduct that simply cannot wait until we get to heaven. Habakkuk is one of a few people in the Bible who was given the opportunity to raise his complaints to the Lord of the Universe. What would you ask God if given the same chance as Habakkuk? Our heavenly Father doesn’t mind hearing our questions and doubts. The book of Habakkuk contains the answers the prophet received from God regarding why he allows injustice.

The writer of Habakkuk, like many modern Christians, cannot believe what he sees going on around him. He asks hard and pointed questions of God. And like many people today, he wonders why a righteous God does not intervene.

In the first chapter, Habakkuk jumps right into matters of violence and injustice, asking why God allows such outrages. The wicked are triumphing while the good suffer. God replies that he is raising up the evil Chaldeans, another name for the Babylonians, ending with the timeless description that their “own might is their god.”

While Habakkuk acknowledges God’s right to use the Babylonians as his instrument of punishment, the prophet complains that God makes humans like helpless fish, at the mercy of this cruel nation. In chapter two, God replies that Babylon is arrogant, then follows with one of the most significant statements in the entire Bible:

“The righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 1:4, NIV)

Believers are to trust in God, no matter what happens. This command was especially fitting in the Old Testament before Jesus Christ came, but also became a watchword repeated by the apostle Paul and the author of Hebrews in the New Testament.

God then launches into five “woe oracles” against the Babylonians, each consisting of a statement of their sin followed by coming punishment. God condemns their greed, violence, and idolatry, promising to make them pay.

Habakkuk responds with a lengthy prayer in chapter three. In highly poetic terms, he exalts the power of the Lord, giving example after example of God’s irresistible might over the nations of the earth. He expresses confidence in God’s ability to make all things right in his own time.

Finally, Habakkuk, who began the book with frustration and mourning, ends by rejoicing in the Lord. He pledges that no matter how bad things get in Israel, the prophet will see beyond circumstances and know that God is his sure hope.

Author of Habakkuk

The prophet Habakkuk is the author of the book.

Date Written

Between 612 and 588 BC.

Written To

The people of the southern kingdom of Judah, and all later readers of the Bible.

Landscape of the Book of Habakkuk

Judah, Babylonia.

Themes in Habakkuk

Life is bewildering. On both global and personal levels, life is often impossible to understand. Habakkuk complained about the injustices in society, such as the triumph of wickedness over goodness and the senselessness of violence. While we still fret over such things today, each of us also worries about the upsetting events in our own life, including loss, illness, and disappointment. Even though God’s answers to our prayers may not satisfy us, we can trust in his love as we face the tragedies that confront us.

God is in control. No matter how bad things get, God is still in control. However, his ways are so high above ours that we cannot understand his plans. We often fantasize about what we would do if we were God, forgetting God knows the future and how everything will turn out.

God can be trusted. At the end of his prayer, Habakkuk professed his confidence in God. No power is greater than God. No one is wiser than God. No one is perfect except God. God is the enforcer of ultimate justice, and we can be certain he will make all things right in his own time.   

Key Characters

God, Habakkuk, and the Babylonian empire.

Key Verses

Habakkuk 1:2
“How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (NIV)

Habakkuk 1:5
“Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (NIV)

Habakkuk 3:18
“...yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (NIV)

Outline of Habakkuk

  • Habakkuk’s complaints and God’s answers (1:2 – 2:20)
  • Habakkuk’s prayer and trust in God (3:1-19)

Sources

  • ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles
  • Life Application Study Bible, Tyndale House and Zondervan