Michael Rydelnik


Author. Habakkuk is identified by the text as the author of the book (1:1). Little is known of Habakkuk’s life other than his identification as a prophet. The final verse of the book is directed to the "choir director, on my stringed instruments," suggesting that Habakkuk may have been a Levitical musician (3:19). The Septuagint (the second-century BC Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) includes an addition to the book of Daniel, the apocryphal Bel and the Dragon, mentioning Habakkuk as "the son of Jeshua of the tribe of Levi." It then goes on to record a legend about him that is pure fantasy.

The name Habakkuk means "to embrace/embracer" or "to fold the hands," perhaps indicating his love for the Lord, as exemplified in his bold interactions with Him. Luther suggested that Habakkuk offered a comforting message to his people. Jerome proposed that the name indicates Habakkuk’s embracing the problem of divine justice. Perhaps Habakkuk’s ultimate confidence in the Lord despite all circumstances is the Lord’s embrace of the prophet with His comfort.

Date. The content of the book indicates Habakkuk’s message was given shortly before the Babylonian invasion of Judah (605 BC; 2Kg 24:1), when God proclaimed the horrific news to Habakkuk that He was raising up the Chaldeans in judgment on Judah (1:6). "Chaldean" and "Babylonian" are synonymous for this commentary. Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and he shared a similar prophetic message of Babylon’s coming invasion.

Nabopolassar’s son, Nebuchadnezzar, defeated the Egyptians and Assyrians at the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC, but the first captives from Judah were not taken until later in Jehoiakim’s reign (2Kg 24:1; Dn 1:1–7). Since Hab 1:5–11 reflects Judah’s awareness of the Babylonians’ cruelty and power without a direct assault on Judah having taken place, the most likely date for the book is in the years just prior to 605 BC.

After the death of King Josiah (640–609 BC), his spiritual reforms quickly crumbled. Habakkuk gave his message during the reign of King Jehoiakim (609–598 BC; cf. 2Kg 23:36–24:7; 2Ch 36:5–8), when the moral character of Judah was "violence," "iniquity," and "wickedness" and the judgment of the Lord was on the horizon (Hab 1:2–4).

Recipients. Rather than a typical prophetic oracle of judgment, the book is a record of Habakkuk’s struggle with God’s justice in light of His announcement of coming judgment by the Babylonians. The audience seems to have been the righteous remnant of Judah, and the message was recorded to encourage them to remain faithful during days of judgment ahead (2:4). The message of Habakkuk continues to be a source of hope for faithful believers whenever they are facing difficult days.

Themes. Like Job, the book of Habakkuk deals with a troubling issue of the goodness of God in the face of evil. In particular Habakkuk asks, "how can a righteous God use the more wicked to judge the less wicked—and how should believers respond when He does?" This tension becomes more acute when God has determined that repentance and faith may delay His judgment, but cannot stop it (see 2Kg 22; 23:24–27). This means the experience of God’s discipline precedes His deliverance.

The answer to Habakkuk’s question hinges on the depth and purity of faith (see Hab 2:4), with close ties to an understanding of God’s corrective discipline toward those in whom He delights (Pr 3:11–12; Heb 12:4–11) and His ultimate judgment of those He uses to correct His people (see Jr 50–51). The book has links to the covenant stipulations of Dt 32 and the expressed faith, historical setting, and eschatological foreshadowing of Ps 18. In an honest journey from complaint and doubt to resolution, faith, and praise, Habakkuk shows that God’s justice ultimately prevails so that, above all, He can be trusted.

The book includes several significant theological themes:

God’s Sovereignty. The Lord is eternal (Hab 1:12), and His word is certain (2:6). Ultimately all the people in the whole world will recognize Him (2:14). He alone is in control of all events in the world (3:2–15).

God’s Justice. The Lord is holy (1:12) and will not overlook wickedness (1:13), even though the timing of His actions may surprise us (2:3).

God’s Requirement of Faith. Even in the face of seeming injustice and oncoming evil, the righteous must live by faith in God. The Lord is already at work, and the faithful must wait for His appointed time when His salvation will be revealed to the whole world (2:4). This faithful attitude is possible only because the Lord is our strength (3:19).

God’s Provision of Salvation. The theme of God’s salvation is traced in the closing chapter of the book (3:8, 13, 18). It is linked with the work of the Messiah, God’s anointed (3:13).

Background. Since ancient times, Habakkuk has been grouped in the Jewish canon as part of the "Book of the Twelve." In the Hebrew Bible, the last 12 books were written on one scroll and considered one book. These short prophetic books are commonly known as the Minor Prophets, in what Christians refer to as the Old Testament. Habakkuk and the other books in this unit are not minor in importance. They are designated "Minor Prophets" because they are much smaller than the longer prophetic books designated the Major Prophets (e.g., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel).

The book of Nahum, just before Habakkuk in the OT, focuses on the northern kingdom of Israel and her enemy Assyria, who would take Israel captive in 721 BC. Nahum closes with the destruction of Assyria, a nation God judged for her treatment of His people. The book of Habakkuk, in turn, focuses on the southern kingdom of Judah and her enemy Babylon, whom God would use to discipline His people, and whom He would then likewise judge. The book following Habakkuk, Zephaniah, focuses on "the day of the Lord" when the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (2:14). Habakkuk’s acceptance in both the Jewish and Christian canon was historically unquestioned, and there is no record of dispute about it in ancient writings.

An incomplete commentary on Habakkuk was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This was a significant find, indicating the antiquity and importance of the text. However, recent criticism of Habakkuk has arisen from this Qumran discovery. That commentary covers chaps. 1 and 2, although chap. 3 is absent. This has caused some modern scholars to be critical of the book, suggesting it was incomplete at the time the Dead Sea community was writing their commentary—giving Habakkuk a post-Babylonian captivity date. However, this is an argument from silence. The absence from the Qumran commentary of chap. 3 more likely indicates that the commentary was unfinished. This is especially probable because the manuscript itself has space for a column of text that was never written. The omission of the third chapter from the Qumran manuscript does not seriously call into question the authenticity or preexilic date of Habakkuk.


I. Habakkuk’s Problem of Doubt (1:1–2:20)

A. The First Dialogue: Regarding Judah’s Iniquity (1:1–11)

1. Habakkuk’s Complaint: Why Do You Allow Iniquity to Continue among Your People? (1:1–4)

2. The Lord’s Reply: I Will Judge the Iniquity of My People (1:5–11)

B. The Second Dialogue: Regarding Perceived Injustice (1:12–2:20)

1. Habakkuk’s Protest: How Can a Righteous God Use a Nation More Wicked than Judah as an Instrument of Judgment? (1:12–2:1)

2. The Lord’s Reply: The Righteous Live by Faith in God’s Justice because God Will Judge the Babylonians (2:2–20)

II. Habakkuk’s Prayer of Faith (3:1–19)

A. Praising God for His Past Deliverance of Israel (3:1–7)

B. Praising God for His Power in Bringing Salvation (3:8–15)

C. Praising God with Determination in Every Circumstance (3:16–19)


I. Habakkuk’s Problem of Doubt (1:1–2:20)

The book opens with a dialogue between Habakkuk and the Lord in two sections. Each is a complaint by the prophet followed by the Lord’s answer.

A. The First Dialogue: Regarding Judah’s Iniquity (1:1–11)

1. Habakkuk’s Complaint: Why Do You Allow Iniquity to Continue among Your People? (1:1–4)

1:1. The book is an oracle, a message from the Lord, which Habakkuk saw, or was given. Oracles were often judgments against Gentile nations (e.g., Is 13:1; 15:1; 17:1). In a bitter irony, this oracle is God’s judgment, not against Gentiles, but against Judah (Hab 1:2–17).

1:2–3. Habakkuk’s question, How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? emphasizes the continual nature of Habakkuk’s complaint and the apparent lack of response on God’s part. This does not mean the Lord is unable to hear, or is deaf, to Habakkuk’s words. The Lord does see, hear, and know everything all the time. The problem for Habakkuk is God’s lack of action in light of his call for help.

The number and repetition of words used (e.g., violenceiniquity wickedness, destructionstrifecontention) indicate Judah’s wicked condition during the reign of King Jehoiakim (609–598 BC), just prior to the Babylonian captivity.

1:4. God’s law (i.e., all utterances of His truth and will) is ignored ("paralyzed"; the nation was numb to God’s teaching). The wicked surround the righteous, and therefore justice comes out perverted ("to bend or twist"). God’s truth and will are distorted, misrepresented, or misused. Whenever the wicked overcome the righteous, the righteous suffer (cf. Is 5:20; Ps 11:3).

2. The Lord’s Reply: I Will Judge the Iniquity of My People (1:5–11)

1:5. God gave a shocking answer to Habakkuk—He would deal with Judah’s iniquity, but in a way that would cause him to be astonished and wonder ("to be amazed, stunned, dumbfounded"). The idea is so unprecedented that You would not believe if you were told. The pronoun "you" is plural in Hebrew, indicating the message is for the whole nation, not just for Habakkuk.

1:6–8. The shocking reply is behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans as instruments of God’s judgment. Babylon was the greatest military power at that time: fierce, dreaded, and feared. Babylon’s army moved on horsesswifter than leopards and the eagle, and they were keener (more eager) to attack than wolves.

1:9–10. The phrase their horde of faces moves forward, (lit., "toward the east wind,") is poetic description of the military taking captives like sand, the way sand is moved in a windstorm. Mighty Babylon had the military strength to mock at kings and rulers (reminiscent of Ps 2:4), yet soon God would be the One mocking them.

1:11. The description of Judah’s impending doom is countered with the description of the Babylonians’ paganism. The phrase whose strength is their god indicates Babylon’s confidence in their own power. A nation of people who basically worshiped themselves was being used by God to judge the nation He called to worship Him, the God of Israel. Yet, Babylon would be held guilty for their failure to recognize the God of Israel.

B. The Second Dialogue: Regarding Perceived Injustice (1:12–2:20)

The problem of God using the wicked nation of Babylon to punish the wickedness of Judah, His own people, is the key theological question of the book.

1. Habakkuk’s Protest: How Can a Righteous God Use a Nation More Wicked Than Judah as an Instrument of Judgment? (1:12–2:1)

1:12. Habakkuk began his response by acknowledging the eternal character of God. Are you not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, My Holy One? This intensely personal plea was an appeal to God’s eternal holiness, power, sovereignty, and covenant loyalty. The prophet knew that God supports and defends the righteous (Ps 34:19; 103:6; 146:8–9) and would never utterly forsake His people (Gn 12:3; Jr 31:35). Habakkuk affirmed God’s faithfulness to preserve a remnant of His people, saying, we will not die. Yet Habakkuk recognized that God, identified as O Rock (cf. Dt 32:4; Ps 18:2), had appointed Babylon as His agent of judgment to correct Judah (cf. Is 7:18–20; 44:28–45:1).

1:13. Still the question is: How can God, who is faithful to His covenant, use the pagan and vastly more wicked Babylonians to judge and correct when He cannot approve evil or look on wickedness with favor? Clearly, God will never condone evil or wickedness (Pss 5:4; 34:16, 21; Pr 15:26), yet how could He use wicked Babylon against Judah? Habakkuk was wrestling with the complex truth that God uses even the wickedness of man to accomplish His own purposes (Pr 16:4).

This verse is frequently, though incorrectly, cited to explain how the Father turned from the Son at the crucifixion. It is suggested that when Jesus bore the sin of the world the eternal fellowship between the Father and the Son was broken. Jesus’ death on the cross did not separate Him from the Father. The Godhead is an eternal, inseparable, mysterious union. The death of the Messiah provided the necessary eternal sacrifice for sin. However, it does not mean that God cannot look upon evil (or how could He look at all the earth?), but rather that He does not approve evil.

Habakkuk posed here the central question of the book: Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they? It seemed contrary to God’s character to use the more wicked, Babylon, to punish the less wicked, Judah (cf. Jb 19:7).

1:14–17. Babylon’s taking their enemies captive is described by a fishing metaphor: men are like the fish of the sea, and the Babylonians bringthem up with a hook and drag them away with their net. Babylon’s victims were helpless. Babylon worshiped its military might, offering sacrifice and incense to their fishing net (cf. v. 11) The question is, will they constantly fill and empty their net and continually slay nations without sparing those nations. The coming judgment by Babylon seems inescapable and ruthless.

2:1. Having asked this central question of the Lord, Habakkuk presented himself as a sentry posted on a city wall waiting to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved. Habakkuk yearned for God to explain what he had failed to understand and awaited a response (cf. Ps 50:15; 91:15; Jr 33:3). He was not anticipating a reprimand from God for his questions, but rather a genuine corrective response (cf. Pr 3:11; 12:1; 15:31).

2. The Lord’s Reply: The Righteous Live by Faith in God’s Justice because God Will Judge the Babylonians (2:2–20)

The Lord’s answer to Habakkuk was twofold: He would judge the Babylonians for their destruction of Judah, therefore, the righteous must trust God’s actions and timing in judging the wicked.

2:2–3. Habakkuk was instructed to record God’s answer on tablets, an echo of the giving of the law written on tablets of stone (see Ex 24:12; 31:18; 32:16). Record[ing] the message on stone resulted in a permanent but portable message that a messenger could deliver—the one who reads it may run. The message was to encourage the faithful of Judah that the vision of the events was yet for the appointed time, but it would certainly come and will not delay. Babylon did capture Jerusalem, and seemed for a while to be an unconquerable world ruler. Yet within 70 years Babylon would fall to the Medo-Persians, just as God foretold. The Lord’s word is always fulfilled, but often in unexpected ways (cf. Ps 90:4; 2Pt 3:9; Rv 22:20). This verse is quoted in the NT to encourage followers of Messiah to remain faithful to Him until the Lord Jesus returns (Heb 10:37).

2:4. This is the key verse in Habakkuk, which contrasts the difference between the proud Babylonians who had made "their strength … their god" (1:11) and the righteous attitude of the faithful remnant of Israel who will live by faith.

The indictment against Babylon is addressed to the proud one, the leader of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, as representative of the nation. He (his soul) was not right within him because he trusted in his strength as his god (1:11).

This proud one is contrasted with the righteous person who will live by his faith. This familiar verse appears three times in the NT (Rm 1:17; Gl 3:11; Heb 10:38), yet the emphasis of the verse is somewhat unclear. The Hebrew word ‘emunah, can mean either "faith" or "faithfulness," as well as carry the emphasis of "integrity." The question then becomes, do the righteous live by God’s faithfulness to them or by their faithfulness to God?

Throughout the Scriptures, a right relationship with the Lord is based on personal faith in Him (cf. Gn 15:6; Rm 1:17; Gl 3:11; Heb 10:38), because the Lord is faithful (e.g., Ps 36:5; 86:15; 145:13). Thus these ideas are more similar than they are different. One who has faith in God will also live in faithfulness to Him. Likely, the author intended both ideas in this verse.

All this makes it difficult to understand why Paul cited it in support of a person having faith in order to be saved. The noun ‘emunah would even be considered a work (faithfulness, constancy). Another difficulty rests in the slight ambiguity of the Hebrew. The suffixed pronoun his (or "its") most likely refers to a person who is righteous, but possibly refers to God’s steadfastness or fidelity, or, even less likely, to the trustworthiness of the vision God gave to Habakkuk (see Hab 2:2, 3). But the closest antecedent is the one who is righteous, making it the likely choice.

A solution to its meaning here and in Paul’s letters may be found in similar uses of the word righteous (tsedeqah) and the verb "believe" (‘aman, a cognate of the noun faith or "faithfulness," ‘emunah, used here by Habakkuk) in Gn 15:6 ("Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness"—italics added). It is likely that Habakkuk had in mind the Genesis passage, and that he was encouraging his people to have the kind of faith Abraham had—a faith that was grounded in God’s promises (see Hab 3:1–19 and comments there), in spite of delays in their fulfillment. A considerable amount of time would elapse for God’s promises to be fulfilled for Abraham. His trust would need to be firm, steady (‘emunah). Likewise Habakkuk would have to wait a long time for God to judge Babylon and rescue His people (see 2:3 and 3:16 for the concept of waiting, though the two words are different). The prophet urged the righteous to be steadfast, firm, and faithful (live by his faith, ‘emunah) in his reliance upon God’s promises—even over the long period of time it would take to rescue His people (see especially 3:16–19).

2:5. In contrast to the righteous, the Babylonians were haughty, foolishly proud, and seemingly unaware that wine betrays them. It drove their appetite for conquest. Like Sheol and death, they were never satisfied in the pursuit of peoples to conquer. (See Pr 4:17 for affirmation of misuse of alcohol as giving rise to violence.)

2:6–8. Babylon’s judgment is outlined in poetic detail in a song of five stanzas, each beginning with Woe, a word in Hebrew that means "alas for you" or "how tragic for you" (vv. 6–20). Woe, used frequently by the prophets, and 14 times in the Minor Prophets, is an interjection of distress pronounced in the face of disaster or coming judgment (e.g., Is 3:11; 5:11; 10:5). The first Woe is for Babylon’s oppressive financial practices. It is introduced as part of the taunt-song[s] (i.e., mockery and insinuations) sung by the conquered nations against Babylon for its corrupt financial oppression and because it looted many nations. Those debtors would become creditors, and the Babylonians would be plundered as a recompense for the bloodshed and violence they inflicted (Is 13:17; Jr 50:37b; Dn 5:25–31).

2:9–11. The second Woe is for Babylon’s unjust gain, which established Babylon’s false security. It is against him who gets evil gain for his house to put his nest on high (a likely tie to the mention of eagles at 1:8b; see also Jb 39:27), supposing he will be delivered from the hand of calamity. The eagle’s nest was considered secure from the reach of enemies, so the Babylonians, who were great builders, thought their empire was unassailable. However, by cutting off many peoples through war and cruelty, they were sinning against themselves. The stone and the rafter of the house, built in a lofty place by the cruel conquest of others, will cry out and answer in judgment against him.

2:12–13. The third Woe is for Babylon’s brutality. The Babylonian empire (city) was built on bloodshed and violence. Yet their toil for military superiority was in vain, because the Lord of hosts (denoting God’s sovereign might, cf. 1Sm 15:2; Ps 46:6–7, 9–11) had decreed Babylon’s fall. The nation’s pursuit of conquest was nothing more than a toil for fire (i.e., their victories would be obliterated by God’s burning judgment). Babylon’s judgment is an example of every nation’s futile efforts (grow weary for nothing) if they are not serving the Lord.

2:14. Instead of the world being dazzled by the power of Babylon, in the future everyone will know the Lord, For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. In the Messianic Age, God’s great glory will fill the whole earth, just as the oceans are filled with water (cf. Nm 14:21; Pss 22:27; 72:19; Is 6:3; 11:9; Jr 31:34).

2:15–17. The fourth Woe is for Babylon’s inhumanity to their neighbors, the surrounding nations. Babylon deceived its neighbors with alcohol, described as venom (anger or rage). They were motivated by anger to deceive and control the surrounding nations. Just as a wicked man will get a woman drunk to take sexual advantage of her, Babylon took immoral advantage of its neighbors to look on their nakedness ("naked sexual parts"; cf. Gn 9:20–22). In a perfect example of justice, the Babylonians would soon drink and expose [their] own nakedness (lit., "show yourself uncircumcised"). Referring to the Babylonians as "uncircumcised" emphasized their godless condition (e.g., Gn 34:4; Jdg 14:3; 1Sm 17:36).

The judgment on Babylon is from the cup in the Lord’s right hand, a symbol of divine retribution (cf. Is 51:17–23; Jr 25:15–17; Lm 4:21; Rv 14:10; 16:19). Judgment would fall for the violence done to Lebanon. Perhaps Lebanon is a synecdoche for Israel, as it is elsewhere (cf. 2Kg 14:9; Jr 22:6, 23), and the town likely refers to Jerusalem. Or the judgment may be for Babylon’s actual wanton devastation of Lebanon’s beasts and land. But the worst sin was the human bloodshed.

2:18–19. The fifth and final Woe is for Babylon’s idolatry. It begins with the question, What profit is the idol? The Hebrew means "nonentity" and indicates a worthless thing (cf. Ex 20:4–15; Ps 115:4–8; Is 41:29; 42:9; Jr 10:15). An idol’s maker trusts in his own handiwork when he fashions speechless idols. These idols are in pronounced contrast to the Lord God, who speaks with thunder (Ex 19:19), who commands and it stands fast, and who "fashions the hearts of all men [and] understands all their works" (Ps 33:9, 15).

That contrast leads to a final Woe directed to those who foolishly say to a piece of wood, "Awake!" To a mute stone, "Arise!" and who cover an idol with gold and silver yet there is no breath at all inside it. Their craftsmen may call them gods, but they are lifeless, in stark contrast to the Lord, who breathed life into humanity (Gn 2:7). When He merely blows on godless nations "the storm carries them away like stubble" (Is 40:24).

2:20. The pronouncement of Babylon’s judgment ends with a call to worship the Lord: But the Lord is in His holy temple declares that the Lord is the one true God who dwells, not only among His people on Mt. Zion, but over all from His throne in heaven. The only appropriate response is for all the earth (i.e., all people everywhere) to be silent (in awestruck reverence) before Him. The demand was true then, but one day it will be literally fulfilled in Messiah’s presence (cf. 2:14; Ps 18:46–50; Php 2:9–10).

II. Habakkuk’s Prayer of Faith (3:1–19)

After two dialogues with God about the problem of evil, Habakkuk still did not fully understand. Therefore he concluded the book with a prayer expressing his trust in the Lord, despite his doubts and difficulties. The prayer is in the form of a psalm (chap. 3): it is poetic in meter, has a heading (as do many of the psalms, v. 1, cf. Ps 4:6; 54), and includes the musical/literary notation selah (Hab 3:3, 9, 13, 19).

The prayer/psalm of obedience has three sections: first, praise for the Lord’s powerful deliverance in the past, recalling the events of the exodus (vv. 1–7); second, some rhetorical questions focusing on the purposes of the Lord’s actions to bring salvation (vv. 8–15); third, a statement of trust in God’s plan while waiting for deliverance (vv. 16–19).

A. Praising God for His Past Deliverance of Israel (3:1–7)

This sections recalls God’s faithful and powerful deliverance of His people from Egypt at the time of the exodus.

3:1. A Shigionoth is a musical notation meaning an energetic, passionate song with rapid changes of rhythm (cf. Ps 7:1).

3:2. The prayer opens by reviewing God’s work in the past (I have heard the report), and continues with a review of the events at the exodus. It also predicts that God will once again powerfully deliver His people (see Pss 18; 144:5–8; Is 64:1–3 for similar uses of deliverance imagery). While some have understood these images as primarily focused on the Lord’s impending dealings with Judah and Babylon, the perspective of history demonstrates that this vision (cf. also 2:3) was not fulfilled then. Rather, it will yet be fulfilled in the Lord’s final, eschatological judgment.

This recollection is characterized by fear of the Lord. It contains the only petitions in Habakkuk’s prayer: that God would revive [His] work (accomplish Your promises), provide understanding (make it known), and in wrath remember mercy in the midst of the coming judgment.

3:3–4. Habakkuk borrows imagery from Israel’s history, starting with the exodus. God comes from Teman (with the connection to Mount Paran), which is a broad geographical region south of Judah including Sinai (Nm 13:3, 26: Dt 32:2) and therefore a reminder for Israel of its deliverance from Egypt (including the giving of the law).

Selah is a musical notation, meaning "pause," "lift up," or "exalt." The three uses of selah in this chapter (Hab 3:3, 9, 13) are its only occurrences outside the book of Psalms (where it appears 71 times).

God’s splendor covers the heavens, and radiancelike the sunlight is a poetic description of God’s glory at Sinai and elsewhere (e.g., Ex 19:16; 20:18; Dt. 33:2; Jdg 5:4–5; Ps 18:7–15).

3:5. Elements of divine punishment like pestilence and plague appear in several OT books and call to mind God’s judgment on Pharaoh at the exodus (cf. Ex 7:14–12:30).

3:6–7. The geologic turmoils of mountainsshattered and ancient hills collapsed are similar to those associated with God’s descent to Sinai when He gave the law (see Ex 19:18; Ps 18:7). In response to God’s mighty acts of deliverance, the nations, specifically the nomadic desert tribes of Cushan and Midian (Nm 31; Jdg 7), were startled (cf. Jos 2:10–11; 9:9–10).

B. Praising God for His Power in Bringing Salvation (3:8–15)

3:8. This section (vv. 8–15) opens with rhetorical questions concerning the results of God’s actions. The Lord was not raging or angry against the rivers, referring to the Nile when he changed it to blood (Ex 7:20–24), or the Jordan when He stopped its flow (Jos 3:15–17). Neither was He filled with wrath against the sea when He parted the Red Sea (Ex 15:14–16; Jos 2:9–10). Through these actions He, expressed here picturesquely, rode on His horses and chariots of salvation to defend His people Israel and make Himself known (Dt. 32:39–43).

3:9. God is presented as a warrior, whose bow was made bare, meaning pulled from its sheath ready for war. The phrase rods of chastisement were sworn is obscure, with dozens of potential translations for just three words in Hebrew. Perhaps the best understanding is, "God had enlisted weapons and pledged them on oath for the destruction of his enemies" (O. Palmer Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, NICOT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990], 234).

3:10–15. In this section various aspects of nature are personified in their reaction to the power of the Lord. To begin (v. 10), the mountains quaked in response to God’s power, as recorded at Sinai (Ex 19:18; Ps 114:4, 6–7) and torrential rains (downpour of waters) swept by, causing floods (Gn 7:11, 19–20). The deep, a synonym for the seas or oceans, uttered forth its voice; it had loud crashing waves in the midst of a storm, and lifted high its hands (waves) in response to His command (cf. Ps 77:15–17, 19).

Next, the prophet recalled the episode at Gibeon (cf. Jos 10:12–13) when, by a miracle of God, the sun and moon stood in their places (the heavens). Military images again illustrated God’s power: light of Your arrows and Your gleaming spear. In comparison to His brightness, the sun and moonwent away—were no longer visible (v. 11).

God appeared as a warrior who marched through the earth with indignation and anger to express His wrath against pagan nations who assaulted His people (v. 12). It is the Lord who executes judgment: You trampled, literally "threshed" even as cut grain is separated from the stalks by driving a wooden sledge fitted with sharp teeth over it. This is a frequent image of judgment (cf. Am 1:3; Jb 41:30; Is 41:15).

The prophet declared God’s purposes in His actions and His displays of power. First the Lord went forth for the salvation of [His] people (v. 13), the Jewish people. He would deliver them from the oppression of the nations (cf. v. 12). Second, He is described as going out For the salvation of Your anointed (v. 13), a term used in the OT, not for the nation of Israel, but for specific individuals. Priests and kings were anointed for God’s service (cf. Ex 29:29; 1Kg 1:34), but the English translation of the Hebrew term masiach (Messiah) applies to the Messiah Himself in this context (Ps 2:2; Dn 9:26).

When the Lord comes in judgment, He will strike the head of the house of evil, which, in addition to the immediate context, is an allusion to the promise of the Messiah’s ultimate victory over Satan (Gn 3:15). This depiction, in military terms, shows God inflicting a mortal wound (from thigh to neck) on the enemies of Israel who over the years devoured the oppressed in secret, by using stealth to gain an advantage (Ex 14:1–9; 2Sm 15:1–12; 2Kg 6:8–20; Ps 10:5–11). God preserved the Jewish people from total destruction by the Egyptians and Babylonians, and they survived. Through them the Messiah would come to bring salvation to the world (cf. Mt 1:1; 2Tm 2:8).

Finally (v. 15), in an inclusio with v. 3, the exodus is again recalled, reminding God’s people that just as the Lord trampled the Egyptian chariots with His own horses while the Red Sea surged with chaos and death (Ex 15:21), so He will defeat the Babylonian army and later ultimately bring salvation through Messiah, who will strike the head of Satan.

C. Praising God with Determination in Every Circumstance (3:16–19)

Despite God’s past faithfulness and certainty of future salvation, Habakkuk faced one of the most fundamental and challenging questions in a believer’s experience: "Am I willing to trust God—even if it means facing trouble experiencing His deliverance?"

3:16. Facing the certainty of coming destruction by Babylon, Habakkuk experienced fear that penetrated his inward parts. He was physically shaken by the dreadful events ahead. His lips quivered, he was on the brink of tears, and he felt weak as if decay was entering [his] bones. Even in the midst of this emotional and physical anguish, he realized there was nothing to be done. The prophet knew that before God carried out the deliverance for Judah, he would have to wait eagerly, literally "rest" before the Lord (cf. Ps 37:7; Is 46:10), while waiting for the day of distress when the Babylonians would invade.

3:17. Habakkuk knew the coming invasion would lead to devastation and starvation. He outlined the loss of major sources of food in a brief sketch: fig would not blossom; no grapes on the vines; olive crop and grain in the fields would produce no food; even the flock[s] of sheep and goats, as well as cattle, would die—be cut off. Nothing would be left.

3:18. But in a remarkable statement of faith and trust, Habakkuk pledged to exult in the Lord and rejoice in the God of my salvation. This is a personal statement of relationship and confidence in the Lord, expressed in the parallel ideas of exulting (cf. Pss 18:7; 68:4; 149:5; Zph 3:14) and rejoicing (cf. Pss 9:14; 30:1; 31:7; 40:16). These emotions are not centered on circumstances but, on the contrary, they are focused on the Lord, who is the source of his salvation and strength. No matter what the circumstances, the prophet was determined to trust in God and rejoice in the midst of whatever the Lord allowed to come. He was fully confident in God’s ability to move His people through judgment to deliverance.

3:19. The antithesis of the Babylonians (whose strength is their god, 1:11b), Habakkuk affirmed the Lord God is my strength (cf. Ex. 15:2; Pss 28:7; 18:21; 118:14). He depicted God’s delivered people as a hind (deer) that securely climbs and lives in mountainous terrain (i.e., high places—see Dt 32:13; Ps 18:33).

The final musical movement ends with an indication the psalm was to be sung and accompanied by stringed instruments.

This remarkable encounter between Habakkuk and the Lord concludes with a lesson as relevant today as it was two-and-a-half millennia ago when the Babylonians were on the brink of capturing Jerusalem. Habakkuk is a model of righteousness for today, as a man who loved the Lord and was willing to seek to understand His ways—yet also willing to trust and rejoice in God’s salvation, even when His plans seemed beyond comprehension. Those who love the Lord may still be facing incomprehensible difficulties, but should not be overwhelmed by them. Those who live by faith will remain loyal to Him despite circumstances. Remembering that God is the salvation and strength of His people (Hab 3:18–19) will produce rejoicing in the Lord and confidence in the Lord’s ultimate good plan. He will vindicate His followers at the return of the Messiah Jesus, when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (2:14).


Armerding, Carl E. "Habakkuk." In Daniel–Minor Prophets. Vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard P. Polcyn. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985.

Barker, Kenneth L. Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1998.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets, 2 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006.

Bruce, F. F. "Habakkuk." In The Minor Prophets, edited by Thomas E. McComiskey, 831–896. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2009.

Bruckner, James. Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.

Chisholm, Robert B., Jr. Handbook on the Prophets. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002.

———. "A Theology of the Minor Prophets." In A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, edited by Roy B. Zuck, 397–433. Chicago: Moody, 1991.

Feinberg, Charles. The Minor Prophets. Chicago: Moody, 1990.

Hill, Andrew E., et al. Minor Prophets: Hosea through Malachi. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2008.

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Toward an Old Testament Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978.

Prior, David. The Message of Joel, Micah, and Habakkuk. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999.

Robertson, O. Palmer. The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990.


Return to Bible Study Materials

Return to Home Page 返回主頁