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Habakkuk is the only prophet to devote his entire work to the question of the justice of God’s government of the world. In the Bible as a whole, only Job delivers a more pointed challenge to divine rule. Habakkuk’s challenge is set up as a dialogue between the prophet and God, in which Habakkuk’s opening complaint about injustices in Judean society (1:2–4) is followed in 1:5–11 by God’s promise that the perpetrators will be punished by invading Chaldeans, i.e., Babylonians. Habakkuk’s second complaint about the violence of the Chaldeans themselves (1:12–2:1) is followed by a second divine response assuring the prophet of the reliability of God’s rule and calling for human faithfulness (2:2–4).
This dialogue is followed by a series of observations on the disastrous nature of tyranny (2:5–20), and by a vivid description in chap. 3 of God’s appearance to save the people. Chapter 3 may be the prophet’s prayer that God fulfill the promises made earlier to Habakkuk, or a hymn praising God’s power added to Habakkuk’s speeches by editors. In either case, the description of the theophany draws heavily upon ancient traditions in which God establishes order by defeating chaos, symbolized by rebellious waters (see Jb 7:12; Ps 74:13–14; 77:17–21; 89:10–11; Is 51:9).
Two important events frame Habakkuk’s prophecy: the great Babylonian (Chaldean) victory over the Egyptians at Carchemish (605 B.C.) and the second Babylonian invasion of Judah (587 B.C.), which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem. The desperate conditions in Judah during these years, arising from internal and external threats, provoked Habakkuk’s struggle with difficult and important theological questions about divine justice.
The book may be divided as follows:
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