Habakkuk, the Unknown Prophet

Habakkuk

“And Jehovah answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon the tablets, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for the appointed time, and it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie: though it tarry, wait for it because it will surely come, it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:2,3, RVIC. Other scriptures below from NASB 1995, unless otherwise noted.)

by Len Griehs

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Although the theme text refers to Jehovah’s reply to the prophet’s question about Babylon, Bible students associate this theme text with the Chart of the Ages. It verifies that God has a plan and that it is possible to understand that plan by searching the scriptures with the aid of God’s holy Spirit. The outcome of understanding the plan, the scripture says, is so that one may run. Strong’s 7323, translated run in this verse, means “to run (for whatever reason, but especially to rush).” In Psalms 19:5 it appears as a “strong man to run” following the description of a bridegroom coming out of his chamber. Habakkuk’s vision gives us the framework to see the final outcome of God’s plan if we respond to the call of the bridegroom, consecrate our lives and run for the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:24, Philippians 3:14).

Habakkuk, the Prophet

Habakkuk is not mentioned outside of the book that bears his name. Because so little is known about him, dating his prophecy is difficult. His placement among the Minor Prophets and his prediction of the coming invasion of Babylon (1:6) suggests that Habakkuk lived in Judah during the final years of King Josiah’s reign or perhaps the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim. After the fall of Nineveh, Babylon began its ascendancy in the Middle East. It was at the Battle of Carchemish, dated 605 BC by McClintock and Strong, that Babylonian king Nabopolassar’s son, Nebuchadnezzar, routed Egyptian forces and destroyed them at Hamath, in Syria (2 Chronicles 35:20, Jeremiah
46:12).

The name “Habakkuk” means “one who embraces,” and suggests that the theme of his book is the importance of embracing Jehovah regardless of what goes on around us. It exhorts the church of our day to embrace God as evil threatens to destroy our civilization. We must cling to the vision of God’s plan moving forward at the correct pace, and that no evil can separate us from His love (Romans 8:37-39). In the book’s three chapters, Habakkuk asks two questions and Jehovah God answers both. Satisfied with God’s encouragement, Habakkuk offers a prayer of thanksgiving to Jehovah.

Habakkuk’s First Question: Why does the evil in Judah go unpunished (1:2-4)?
God’s Answer: It will not remain so for long — the Babylonians will punish Judah (1:5-11).

Judah’s rebellion against God accelerated during the reign of Manasseh. Idol worship was so ingrained in the people that even good king Josiah’s reforms could not reverse the damage (2 Kings 23:26). During his 31-year reign, beginning at the age of eight (2 Chronicles 34), Josiah purged the land of idolatry. 2 Chronicles 35 tells of a Passover (verse 18) such as never had been since the days of Samuel. Unfortunately, Judah’s corruption under Manasseh (2 Kings 21:11-15) was so thorough that Josiah’s efforts could only postpone the punishment on Judah (2 Kings 23:26).

Sometime after this great Passover, Josiah encountered Egyptian Pharaoh Necho going to battle to assist the King of Assyria (2 Kings 23:29 NIV). Through ambassadors, Necho
told Josiah, “What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war; and God hath commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not” (2 Chronicles 35:21 RVIC). Necho’s statement that God had sent him was not true. Still, Josiah persisted against Necho until he was killed in the battle (2 Chronicles 35:24).1 Historical evidence indicates that this occurred in 609 BC and that ultimately Jehoiakim (aka Eliakim) was placed on the throne of Judah (2 Kings 23:29,30,34). But prior to the installation of Jehoiakim, several events altered the direction of Judah.

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(1) See What Pastor Russell Said, page 765, for a discussion of Josiah’s violent death after God promised that he would die in peace (2 Kings 22:20).

First, the people called upon Jehoahaz, son of Josiah, to become king. Three months later, Pharaoh Necho removed him and spoiled the treasury — 100 talents of silver and a talent of gold — and replaced Jehoahaz with Josiah’s 25-year-old son Eliakim, as the king, changing his name to Jehoiakim (2 Chronicles 36:2- 5). Jehoiakim taxed Judah substantially for some years and gave all the money to Necho (2 Kings 23:35). When Nebuchadnezzar, on the orders of his father, invaded Jerusalem, he captured Jehoiakim and took Daniel and other Israelites to Babylon (Daniel 1:1, 2 Chronicles 36:6, 2 Kings 24:1). Judah’s independence came to an end.

While this subjection was a punishment on the nation, the captivity in Babylon was God’s way of protecting his faithful (Jeremiah 24:5). Likening them to good figs (Jeremiah 24:3),
God promised that he would bring them again to their own land and they would not be removed again. But Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, was among the evil figs in Judah that were removed as a taunt and a curse (Jeremiah 24:9). Later, Jesus said that “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the Times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24 KJV). This was the beginning of that prophetic fulfillment and
God’s answer to Habakkuk’s first question.

Habakkuk’s Second Question: How can a just God use wicked Babylon to punish a people more righteous than they (1:12-2:1)?
God’s Answer: Babylon will be punished as well, and the faithful remnant of Judah will be rewarded (2:2-20).

Nebuchadnezzar claimed the throne as Babylon’s king after the illness of his father, Nabopolassar. Judah’s last king, Zedekiah, witnessed the slaughter of his sons before being blinded and transported to Babylon himself. Jerusalem was looted, its walls dismantled, and the temple and palace burned to the ground (2 Kings 25:6-10). All remaining resistance leaders were killed. Nebuchadnezzar would soon wipe out what remained of the southern kingdom of Israel. It is no wonder that Habakkuk lamented this punishment.

King Nebuchadnezzar (Nabu-kudurri-usur in Chaldean) plays a prominent role in the Book of Daniel. His vision of world history (Daniel 2), and his conversion to the one true God after punishment for his arrogance (Daniel 4:37), take up a significant part of the book. Under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule, the sixsquare-mile city of Babylon never looked richer. Double walls surrounded the entire city. The Euphrates River flowed right through the heart of the city, giving nourishment to the Hanging Gardens. (2)

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(2) Stephen M. Miller, Babylon: Who’s Who and Where’s Where in the Bible?

A record from the reign of Nabonidus, last ruler of the empire, says that in his third year he elevated his son, Belshazzar,3 as coregent to rule Babylon. Later, Nabonidus led an army through Syria and Lebanon and up to the oasis of Taima in northwest Arabia, where he retired and remained for the next ten years. (4)

The Handwriting on the Wall

At a feast sometime during 539 BC, a mysterious hand appeared and wrote, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL UPHARSIN” on the wall, announcing the overthrow of Babylon. “God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it. You have been weighed on the scales and found deficient. Your kingdom has been divided and given over to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:24-28). That very night, Darius the Mede slew Belshazzar.

The Persian account5 verifies the actions cited in Daniel’s condemnation of Babylon (Daniel 5:23). Nabonidus ordered the collection of Babylon’s idols in an effort to protect himself, but overwhelming opposition during the month of Tishri resulted in Cyrus’ assault on the Tigris and Sippar. Nabonidus fled. Two days later, Ugbaru, governor of the Guti, and the army of Cyrus entered Babylon without a battle.6 The first great universal empire of Daniel 2:36-38 was no more. Cyrus decreed that the Israelites in captivity should return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple (Ezra 1:1-4). God’s second answer to Habakkuk was complete. The faithful of Judah could come home. Habakkuk lays the question to rest, satisfied: “But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him” (2:20).

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(3) Belshazzar (Daniel 5:1) meaning “Bel, protect the king,” was the son and viceroy of Nabonidus. He is called the “son” of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 5:22, but the Aramaic term used in this section of Daniel could also mean “grandson” or “descendant” or even “successor.” Likewise, “father” could mean “ancestor” or “predecessor” (see Daniel 5:2, 11, 13). Daniel 5:10 talks of “the queen” who appears at the banquet of Belshazzar. She could have been either the wife of Nebuchadnezzar, or the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, or the wife of Nabonidus and not the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar.
(4) Harran Inscription H2.
(5) Among those who think Daniel is historically correct, it is the standard view that Darius and Cyrus refer to the same person. This was clarified by Donald Wiseman, of the British Museum, some time ago and is widely accepted today. Daniel 6:28 follows the same formula as 1 Chronicles 5:26, where Pul and Tilgathpilneser are equated (it is common knowledge among historians today that these two names refer to the same person). In addition, Cyrus was on occasion called “the Mede” because he ruled the kingdom of his maternal grandfather, who was Median.
(6) Grayson 1975, Chronicle 6.

Habakkuk Closes with a Confession of Trust and Joy in God (Chapter 3).

Habakkuk had stationed himself on a watchtower to wait for God’s answer to his questions (2:1). He now understands that God is working His plan. Habakkuk recounts, between verse 2 and 17, all the ways that God has worked on behalf of His people, especially the Exodus, and he said, in our vernacular, “I have forgotten all these things. Look how You worked. Though it did not seem to be something that we would understand at the time, all these acts of God worked to bring about what He had
planned. They brought us into the Promised Land. They made us a nation. God is wonderful, even though we do not understand.”

So he now tells God, “Look at all your power, God. I am sorry that I forgot that. I let my fears get in the way” (Deuteronomy 33:2, Exodus 12:29, 30, Joshua 14:5, Exodus 14:21, Joshua 4:23, Joshua 21:43).

He prays that God would provide encouragement during the years of captivity to prevent disheartenment amongst the righteous. “In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy” (verse 2). “Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass” (Joshua 21:45). Habakkuk is both awestruck and reassured. He now breaks out in a song of faith, recorded in the last three verses of the book. “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation” (3:17, 18 NASB).

The lesson for us: When we look at our world and lament, “Why do you delay, LORD, in dealing with this violent world?” Jehovah answers that His way of dealing with it is through the actions of the Lord’s Great Army, a selfish and unrighteous group (Joel 2:2-11, Habakkuk 3:16). God told Habakkuk to write (“grave,” Strong’s 3789) the vision, and then he would understand God’s work. Likewise, at the time of the end, God provided the writings of many who would open the understanding of His plan to deal with sin and evil in order for the final members of the Church to be able to endure and not doubt His wisdom (Daniel 12:4).

As Habakkuk recounted the multiple times God had protected and delivered His people, we, too, as the people of God at the end of the age, can now identify the fulfillment of God’s word in the rule of the Gentiles (2,520 years, Luke 21:24), the appearance and death of Messiah, and the call to the Gentiles (70 weeks, Daniel 9:24-27), the Time of the End (1260 years, Daniel 12:7), the invisible presence of our returned Lord (1335 years, Daniel 12:12), and the restoration of Israel (Ezekiel 37). We, who are seeking God’s righteousness, are to live in faith and not falter when we see the continued presence of evil. We need not cry, “How long, O Lord?” We have faith that the fulfillment of God’s plan is according to His schedule, not ours. We may find discouraging the means used to bring the present evil world to a close, but we will find peace in God’s absolute sovereignty, justice, and compassion. We should petition for God’s will to be done, remembering that His work of making a new creation takes precedence over our personal concerns. In the midst of difficult times, we must remember that strong faith is not incompatible with fleshly weakness.

Habakkuk’s words meant much to the Apostle Paul, who noted his example in both Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 when discussing justification by faith. Later, he writes of the vision in Hebrews 10:37,38, associating it with the time of Jesus’ second presence and admonishing us to continue in patient endurance during the worst of times, having faith that Jehovah God will keep His timetable, vindicate His elect, and deliver us into the glorious hope of glory, honor, and immortality (Romans 2:7).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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