"The cordially embraced one (favorite of God), or the cordial embracer." "A man of heart, hearty toward another, taking him into his arms. This Habakkuk does in his prophecy; he comforts and lifts up his people, as one would do with a weeping child, bidding him be quiet, because, please God, it would yet be better with him" (Luther). The psalm (Habakkuk 3) and title "Habakkuk the prophet" favor the opinion that Habakkuk was a Levite. The closing words, "to the chief singer on my stringed instruments," imply that Habakkuk with his own instruments would accompany the song he wrote under the Spirit; like the Levite seers and singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun (1 Chronicles 25:1-5). A lyrical tone pervades his prophecies, so that he most approaches David in his psalms.
The opening phrase (Habakkuk 1:1) describes his prophecy as "the burden which," etc., i.e. the weighty, solemn announcement. Habakkuk "saw" it with the inner eye opened by the Spirit. He probably prophesied in the 12th or 13th year of Josiah (630 or 629 B.C.), for the words "in your days" (Habakkuk 1:5) imply that the prophecy would come to pass in the lifetime of the persons addressed. In Jeremiah 16:9 the same phrase comprises 20 years, in Ezekiel 12:25 six years.
Zephaniah 1:7 is an imitation of Habakkuk 2:20; now Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:1) lived under Josiah, and prophesied (compare Zephaniah 3:5; Zephaniah 3:15) after the restoration of Jehovah's worship, i.e. after the 12th year of Josiah's reign, about 624 B.C. So Habakkuk must have been before this. Jeremiah moreover began prophesying in Josiah's 13th year; now Jeremiah borrows from Habakkuk (compare Habakkuk 2:13 with Jeremiah 51:58); thus, it follows that 630 or 629 B.C. is Habakkuk's date of prophesying (Delitzsch).
Contents. -Habakkuk complains of the moral disorganization around, and cries to Jehovah for help (Habakkuk 1:2-4); Jehovah in reply denounces swift vengeance (Habakkuk 1:5-11) by the Chaldeans. Habakkuk complains that the Chaldees are worse than the Jews whom they are to be the instruments of chastising; they deal treacherously, sweep all into their net, and then "they sacrifice unto their net and burn incense unto their drag," i.e. idolize their own might and military skill, instead of giving the glory to God (Deuteronomy 8:17; Isaiah 10:13; Isaiah 37:24-25). Habakkuk therefore, confident that God is of purer eyes than to behold evil (Habakkuk 1:13), sets himself in an attitude of waiting for the Lord's own solution of this perplexing apparent anomaly (Habakkuk 2:1); Jehovah desires him accordingly, "write the vision" of God's retributive justice plainly, so "that he may run that readeth it," namely, "run" to tell to all the good news of the foe's doom and Judah's deliverance, or, as Grotius, run through it, i.e. run through the reading without difficulty.
The issue must be awaited with patience, for it shall not disappoint; the lifted up soul, as that of the Chaldean foe and the unbelieving apostatizing Jew, is not accounted upright before God and therefore shall perish; but the just shall be accounted just by his faith and so shall live. The Chaldeans' doom is announced on the ground of this eternal principle of God's moral government. The oppressed nations "shall take up a parable," i.e. a derisive song (compare Isaiah 14:4; Micah 2:4), whom Habakkuk copies, against their oppressor. It is a symmetrical whole, five stanzas; three of three verses each, the fourth of four, and the last of two verses. Each stanza, except the last, begins with "woe." All have a closing verse introduced with "for," "but," or "because." Each strophe begins with the character of the sin, then states the woe, lastly confirms the woe (Habakkuk 2:2-20).
The prayer-song (Habakkuk 3) is the spiritual echo, resuming the previous parts of the prophecy, for the enlightenment of God's people. Prayer, thanksgiving, and trust, are the spiritual key to unlock the mysteries of God's present government of the earth. The spirit appears tumultuously to waver (from whence the title "Shigionoth" from shagah, "to wander") between fear and hope; but faith at the end triumphs joyfully over present trials (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Upon God's past manifestations for His people, at Paran, Teman, and the Red Sea, Habakkuk grounds the anticipated deliverance of his people from the foe, through Jehovah's interposition in sublime majesty; so that the believer can always rejoice in the God of his salvation and his strength.
The interests of God's righteous character, seemingly compromised in the Chaldees' successful violence, are what Habakkuk has most at heart throughout; to solve this problem is his one grand theme. Paul quotes Habakkuk 1:5 in his warning to the unbelieving Jews at Antioch in Pisidia. Thrice Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, "the just shall live by his faith" (one fundamental truth throughout the Bible, beginning with Abram in Genesis 15:6); first in Romans 1:17, where the emphasis rests on "just," God's righteousness and the nature of justification being the prominent thought; secondly in Galatians 3:11, where the emphasis is on "faith," the instrument of justification being prominent; thirdly in Hebrews 10:38, where the emphasis is on "live," the continued life that flows from justification being prominent.
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