We don’t know a lot about the prophet apart from the information we can gain from his book. His name means “to wrestle” or “to cling” and speaks to the fact that he is literally wrestling with God for answers. We know that he was a prophet (Hab. 1:1; 3:1), a spokesman for God to Israel. Additionally, the prayer in chapter 3 contains several musical notations (Hab. 3:1, 3, 9, 13, 19) which leads me to believe he was a Levite with the responsibility of the temple music. Rabbinic tradition says that he is the son of the Shunammite woman mentioned in 2 Kings 4:16 but that is purely speculation. The apocryphal book, Bel and the Dragon, contains a reference to Habakkuk that says he was “the son of Jesus of the tribe of Levi.” All in all, the book of Habakkuk portrays him as a man of deep moral sensitivity who struggled with faith and the injustices of the day.
Dating the book is difficult at best. Most people will date it to sometime around 600 B.C. (612-606 B.C.). What really helps us get a handle on the date is found in Hab. 1:6. Here God says that He is raising up the Chaldeans to punish Israel. This is important because the Chaldeans did not rise to prominent power until around 612 B.C. If we hold to this range of dates, this would make him a contemporary with Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Nahum.
By anyone’s standard, Habakkuk is unique among the minor prophets and is more reminiscent of Job than a prophet.
Typically, the prophets are given a message from God, but Habakkuk confronts God with questions and wants answers. He wants to understand why God wasn’t punishing Israel for their sins.
When we read these questions carefully they reveal some serious doubts and fears that he was struggling to work through. The problem was that once he got his answers, the answers shook his faith to its very core. By the end of the story he has his answers, his faith in God is stronger than ever, and he bows down before God in humble submission.
Throughout the book, God’s shows Habakkuk that He does punish evil, but He does it in His time and the way He chooses. The people of God, including the prophet, will not always see or understand it. From our finite, worldly perspective, we cannot understand how or why He does what He does. Instead, He challenges us to simply “live by faith” (Hab. 2:4), trusting that He is still God and still in control.
Perhaps the most important, well at least the most moving for me personally, is the last chapter of Habakkuk. In it we see Habakkuk recalling the stories of God mighty works. He refers to the stories of the Exodus, the 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai, and the conquering of the Promised Land. From these stories, he knows that God is a powerful God who moves heaven and earth for His people and he longs to see that God with his own eyes.
Who hasn’t daydreamed about being there to see God part the Red Sea? Who hasn’t thought about seeing Jesus walking on the water? Who hasn’t wished they could have been there to see the walls of Jericho fall. Habakkuk, like most of us, wants to go back to a time when God moved so powerfully for His people. Perhaps unintentionally, he is implying that God is no longer moving or working for His people and I can relate to those doubts. With Habakkuk, I can understand praying fervently for God to act for His people and feeling like nothing happens. I can understand the longing to see God perform the same kind of miracles done in Egypt or Canaan. Yet, like Habakkuk, I too must learn to wait for the Lord’s timing and trust that He can handle this without my input.