Home » Ponderings of the Bible » The First Dialogue: Habakkuk 1.2-11

The First Dialogue: Habakkuk 1.2-11

1.1 Superscription

“the Oracle,” this word in the Hebrew comes for the root verb which means to lift up.  And it means as the KJV has it, “the burden.”  The idea here is that the message which Habakkuk has been given is in some sense a hard message, likely its heavy so to speak because of the doom its foretelling.

“The Prophet,” Of Habakkuk, we know nothing other than his name, and that he is a prophet.[1] Of Interest however, Habakkuk is the only prophet before the exile, where the writer specifically calls himself a prophet.[2] His title of prophet is also repeated at 3.1.[3]

“Habakkuk” Habakkuk seems to be a prophet around the same time as that of Jeremiah, before one of the Babylonian invasions, giving a date of before 625, 597, or 587 BC.[4] These dates are based on references made in 1.6 it indicates a time no earlier than 625, but no later than 597 BC.[5] And also to the description of the Babylonian forces and this battles most see a date around 605 BC.[6] Also in favor of  date post 605 is that after Josiah’s death and the reforms of his, the following Kings returned Israel to its sinful ways, as the prophet seem to indicated in 1.2-4 and 2.5-19.[7]

Some have suggested that Habakkuk was a Levite based on the form of chapter 3 which includes musical notations and that tribe of Levi was known for its musicians.[8] This is also based on some extra biblical material, and one of the books manuscripts.[9]

1.2-4 Complaint

1.2 Interesting enough, Habakkuk message doesn’t begin with his giving a message God has given him, but instead his giving a message to God.[10] “How Long,” is how a lament is traditionally begun n the psalms and so here.[11] (For example note Ps 13.1-2).  In many ways Habakkuk questioning of God is similar to the account of Job.[12] Habakkuk begins his first complaint directed toward YHWH, not the people, namely why god has not judge them.[13] One of the primary things which Habakkuk ponders is why it seems sinful people are escaping God’s punishment. [14] Throughout his first complaint, YHWH is silent, seemingly waiting to respond until Habakkuk is finished.[15] “Violence, this is an important word to the prophet, it appears also in 1.3,9 2.8, and twice 2.17.  It speaks of the taking away of rights of human especially during turbulent times.[16]

1.4 Josiah had upheld the Law, and had started a great reform, but now the kings after him did not care as much for Torah.[17] Now it seems as if “the wicked had overtaken the righteous in number,” and Habakkuk cannot understand why YHWH seems idle.[18] The prophet certainly quite distressed at the sinfulness around him, but what he is bothered more about is the seemingly carelessness of God, if indeed he can do anything at all.[19]

1.5-11 Yahweh’s Response

1.5 In his response, YHWH goes beyond Habakkuk and addresses also his community.[20] Habakkuk’s desire for justice will come and it will even come in his own life.[21] Whom god choose is something which should surprise both the invader and Judah.[22] God will in time get involved, his involvement will use Babylon and the Exile.[23] The surprise of YHWH’s answer is also seen because instead of an expected deliver from YHWH, he sends it via the Chaldean army![24]

1.6-7 “I am raising up,” in essence YHWH is pointing out quite clearly that what the Chaldeans are doing, they are doing under his power and guidance.[25] In the following description of the Chaldeans, they as Murphy puts it, “lived up to their description.”[26] The justice that Habakkuk desires will come, but it be the Justice of the Chaldeans.[27] Though YHWH has sent the enemy, he thinks instead only of his own power.[28]

1.8-9 The eagles in verse eight is likely referring to the vultures, who thought of creatures without.[29] The word here, neser is a rather uncertain word which may mean either vulture or eagle depending on its context.  Wolves who hunted in the night were thought of proverbially as hungry and quite fierce.   In essence these animals describe how the enemy would rightfully strike terror.[30] They are like the wind in that like strong and violent wind they come out of nowhere blow and cause problems and as shocking as they come they’ve left.[31] As verse seven answers Habakkuk’s cry for justice, nine answers his cry of violence, for now Babylon comes.[32] “They gather captives like sand,” which should remind Habakkuk of what had happened to the Northern Kingdom in 722, but it also in many ways foreshadows what is to ultimately happen to Judah.[33] In essence these two verses highlight the very true fear of this enemy.

1.10-11 The Babylonians have a long list of Kings and rulers who they had defeated and thus could mock.[34] Heap up clay this speaks of the “earthworks,” made to allow easy bring of weapons of war against the wall.[35] As Baker puts it, “these two elements, pride and ferocity, are integral to the self-identity of these people, since they worship their own power.”[36]

End Notes:


[1] Anthony R. Ceresko, “Habakkuk,” in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1990), 261.

[2] Richard T.A. Murphy, “Zephaniah Nahum Habakkuk,” in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1968), [OT], 297.

[3] Julia M. O’Brien, “Habakkuk,” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Fourth Edition, eds. Michael D. Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1322.

[4] Paul R. House and Eric Mitchell, Old Testament Survey (Nashville: Broadman Press, 2001), 253.

[5] William Sanford La Sor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 449.

[6] La Sor, Hubbard, and Bush, 449-450.

[7] S. Bullough, “Habakkuk,” in A New Catholic Commentary on the Holy Scripture, ed. Reginald C. Fuller, Leonard Johnson, and Conleth Kerns (Nashville and New York: Thomas Nelson, Inc. Publishers, 1975), 715.

[8] David W. Baker, “Habakkuk” in New Bible Commentary, ed. G. J. Wenham et al., 21st century ed. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 840.

[9] Baker, 840.

[10] Baker, 842.

[11] O’Brien, 1322.

[12] Baker, 842.

[13] La Sor, Hubbard, and Bush,450.

[14] House and Mitchell, 253.

[15] Bullough, 715.

[16] Ceresko, 262

[17] O’Brien, 1322.

[18] Willem A. VanGemeren, Interpreting the Prophetic Word (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 170.

[19] Ceresko, 262.

[20] O’Brien, 1322.

[21] Baker, 842.

[22] Murphy,297.

[23] Bullough,715.

[24] La Sor, Hubbard, and Bush, 450

[25] Ceresko, 262.

[26] Murphy,297.

[27] Ceresko, 262.

[28] Murphy,297.

[29] Murphy,297.

[30] Murphy,297.

[31] Murphy,297.

[32] O’Brien, 1322.

[33] Ceresko, 262

[34] Murphy,297.

[35] Ceresko, 263.

[36] Baker, 842.

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