Habakkuk, Book of
HABAKKUK, BOOK OF
The Old Testament Book of Habakkuk presents a variety of literary forms in its three chapters. Exegetes have not arrived at any general agreement about these forms. A look at the contents shows reason for the divergence of opinions, which are presented here with the solutions proposed for the date of composition and the unity of authorship. The commentary from Qumram is also considered briefly.
Nothing biographical is known of the Prophet from Scripture, although he is the subject of a midrashic story in Dn 14.33–39.
Contents. The first two chapters of the book contain a twofold complaint against God, whose answer is given in two oracles. The second oracle is developed in the five "Woes" of ch. 2. A psalm with liturgical annotations is contained in ch. 3. The psalm, which contains indications of having been adapted from a Babylonian cosmic myth, begins as an ardent prayer of supplication and develops into a hymn of praise whose theme is a theophany of Yahweh advancing to save His troubled people.
The Prophet is primarily concerned with the mystery of evil. Outraged by the sight of injustice, the Prophet,
perhaps speaking as a representative of the righteous, complains of God's seeming indifference (1.2–4). God answers that Chaldea is being raised up as His instrument of vengeance on the unjust. Proud, cruel, and rapacious, the chaldeans will suddenly descend on their prey and swiftly depart, having carried out the judgment of the Lord on evildoers (1.5–11). Continuing his complaint, the Prophet still demands an explanation of the suffering of the just (1.12–2.1). The response of the Lord is that "the just man, because of his faith, shall live" (2.2–4). As for the unjust, their evil will be turned back onto their heads (2.5–20). The psalm of ch. 3 is the reconciliation of the Prophet to the Lord's wisdom. Like Job, he states that humble trust in the saving God and acceptance of His will is the only answer to the evils that plague the life of the innocent. The Prophet reaches one of the heights of religious sentiment for the Old Testament in ch. 3.17–19. (see retribution.)
Interpretation. This article treats the book as a unit. Since Chaldea is the instrument of God's vengeance, the evildoers would be the wicked Judaites under King Joachim. The language of the condemnatory oracle reflects that used by other prophets in castigating God's people for violations of the covenant. The prophecy should, on the basis of these factors, be placed around 601 b.c.
Other opinions identify the oppressor as Assyria and hence place the prophecy between 625—the year of the appearance of Chaldea—and 612 b.c.—the year of the capture of Niniveh by the Medes and Chaldeans. Still others, assuming Babylonia to be the tyrant, place the Prophet after 605, when the Babylonians gained control of Palestine, and before 597 b.c., when they took Jerusalem for the first time. Some see the Judaites as the first oppressor; Chaldea is God's instrument of judgment. To this the Prophet adds his second complaint, that the last state of the just man is worse than the first. This again places the prophecy about 601 b.c. Positing a growth similar to that of the pentateuch, others claim that to the first preexilic complaint, a second was added during the Exile, adapting the earlier message to a pre-Persian situation around 550 b.c. Finally, understanding Chaldea in1.6 as referring to the Greeks, some regard Alexander the Great as the oppressor (c. 334). These opinions for the most part consider the psalm to be the work of an editor who lived some time between 600 and 100 b.c.
Qumran Commentary. The pēšer or commentary among the dead sea scrolls from Qumran (1Qp Hb), written in Hebrew, applies the first two chapters of Habakkuk to a situation contemporary with the qumran community; the enemy is probably Rome. The absence of the psalm in this commentary is not an argument against the unity of the three chapters, since the Qumran commentaries in general present no continued development of thought. The psalm is found in the Septuagint as well as in the Masoretic Text.
Bibliography: f. horst, Die zwölf Kleinen Propheten (HAT 14; 2d ed. 1954). j. trinquet, Habaquq (BJ; 1953). c. taylor, jr., g. a. buttrick, ed., The Interpreters' Bible, 12 v. (New York 1951–57) 6:973–1003. p. humbert, Problème du livre d'Habacuc (Neuchâtel 1944). w. a. irwin, "The Psalm of Habakkuk," Journal of Near Eastern Studies (1942) 10–40. w. h. brownlee, "The Jerusalem Habakkuk Scroll," The Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 112 (1948) 8–18. m. burrows, "Prophecy and the Prophets at Qumran," Israel's Prophetic Heritage, ed. b.w. anderson and w. hanelson (New York 1962).
[d. j. moeller]