This prophecy dates from the years 605-597 B.C., or between the great Babylonian victory at Carchemish and Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Judah which culminated in the capture of Jerusalem. The situation of Judah was desperate at this time, with political intrigue and idolatry widespread in the small kingdom. The first two chapters consist of a dialogue between the prophet and the Lord. For what may be the first time in Israelite literature, a man questions the ways of God, as Habakkuk calls him to account for his government of the world. To this question God replies that he has prepared a chastising rod, Babylon, which will be the avenging instrument in his hand. There is added the divine assurance that the just Israelite will not perish in the calamities about to be visited on the nation.
The third chapter is a magnificent religious lyric, filled with reminiscences of Israel’s past and rich in literary borrowings from the poetry of ancient Canaan, though still expressing authentic Israelite faith. God appears in all his majestic splendor and executes vengeance on Judah’s enemies. The prophecy ends with a joyous profession of confidence in the Lord, the Savior.
The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet received in vision.
1 How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.
This is why the law is benumbed, and judgment is never rendered: Because the wicked circumvent the just; this is why judgment comes forth perverted.
2 Look over the nations and see, and be utterly amazed! For a work is being done in your days that you would not have believed, were it told.
For see, I am raising up Chaldea, that bitter and unruly people, That marches the breadth of the land to take dwellings not his own.
Terrible and dreadful is he, from himself derive his law and his majesty.
3 Swifter than leopards are his horses, and keener than wolves at evening. His horses prance, his horsemen come from afar: They fly like the eagle hastening to devour;
each comes for the rapine, Their combined onset is that of a stormwind that heaps up captives like sand.
He scoffs at kings, and princes are his laughingstock; He laughs at any fortress, heaps up a ramp, and conquers it.
4 Then he veers like the wind and is gone – this culprit who makes his own strength his god!
5 Are you not from eternity, O LORD, my holy God, immortal? O LORD you have marked him for judgment, O Rock 6 , you have readied him for punishment!
Too pure are your eyes to look upon evil, and the sight of misery you cannot endure. Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence while the wicked man devours one more just than himself?
You have made man like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler.
7 He brings them all up with his hook, he hauls them away with his net, He gathers them in his seine; and so he rejoices and exults.
8 Therefore he sacrifices to his net, and burns incense to his seine; For thanks to them his portion is generous, and his repast sumptuous.
Shall he, then, keep on brandishing his sword to slay peoples without mercy?
1 [2-4] Traditionally, these verses have been taken as the prophet’s complaint against the internal evils of Judah; the language used is that employed by Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah to condemn the social abuses of their day. In ⇒ Habakkuk 1:5-7 the Lord answers this complaint by indicating the Chaldean empire as his instrument for punishing his people for these sins.
2  Look over the nations and see: after Nebuchadnezzar’s defeat of Egypt in 605 B.C., there could be little doubt that it was the Chaldean ambition to dominate the entire Near East.
4  Veers like the wind: the conquests of the ancient Near East were mainly raiding expeditions to collect tribute. As far as administration of conquered territories was concerned, both the Assyrians and Chaldeans were usually content to install friendly rulers and then depart. This culprit: though the Chaldeans were used by God as the agents of his punishment, this did not diminish their own guilt as ruthless marauders.
5 [⇒ 1:12-⇒ 2:1] It is generally thought that this complaint is directed against the Chaldeans and their terrible destruction. But it may well be a continuation of ⇒ 1:2-4 against the wicked Judahites who have merited God’s punishment.
6  O Rock: an ancient title celebrating the Lord’s power; cf ⇒ Psalm 18:32.
7  The he of this and the following verses, to whom is attributed such extensive evil and the destruction of many peoples, may be the wicked of Judah embodied in King Jehoiakim, ally of the powerful Pharaoh Neco of Egypt; the devastation wrought by Jehoiakim and Neco together is condemned.
8  He sacrifices to his net: in ⇒ Habakkuk 1:15 the wicked ruler in question is represented as catching men in a net. This verse alludes to some rite involving the sacrificial veneration of the weapons of war.