Seven “take aways” from my recent study on Habakkuk:
1) The commentaries by O. Palmer Robertson (NICOT) and Peter C. Craigie (DSBS) are very helpful. I differ with Robertson on how to interpret 3:2, and Craigie is extremely brief, but they are both insightful commentators with good theological sense. Their different interests and level of depth also complement each other well.
2) I’m convinced from the larger flow of thought and the reference to torah in 1:4 that 1:2-4 is best taken as describing apostate Judah rather than Assyria in decline or rising Babylon. The best timeframe is sometime during the late seventh century B.C., possibly during the early reign of Jehoiakim, somewhere around 610-605.
3) God is sovereign over evil, but God is not the author of evil. This is a key sentence for me.
God is sovereign over evil: “I am raising up the Chaldeans, that ruthless and impetuous people” (1:6).
God is not the author of evil: “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
and cannot look at wrong” (1:13).
I don’t think we can slice off either half of this sentence, despite the intellectual tension it leaves us in, without losing the power of Habakkuk’s vision. When we are suffering evil, we need a God who is both powerful and good.
4) Emunah is 2:4 is best translated as steadfastness or faithfulness (cf. Robertson: “steadfast trust”) in its own literary context. I don’t think that this impugns Paul’s usage of this verse in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11, but I do think this should broaden our understanding of what “faith” means in Paul’s thought. The faith of Habakkuk, of whom Paul was a thoughtful exegete, is a faith that clings to God even when unbelievable catastrophe strikes (1:5-11), a faith that finds joy in God even amidst desolation (3:17-19). While Paul uses this verse for his own purposes, in a context concerned with justification, he and Habakkuk are both describing the same reality: a posture of steadfast trust in and reliance upon God alone. This is what it means to be righteous. It is how the righteous live in all things – and if it is how the righteous live, it makes sense that it is also how they become righteous in the first place. All Paul does is apply this principle to one particular instance of the life of faith, namely, its inception, the moment at which one becomes righteous. The faith-righteousness connection in Genesis 15:6 corroborates this interpretation (and Robertson interestingly see 2:4 as a commentary on Genesis 15:6, which, if true, means that Romans 1:17 is a commentary on a commentary).
There is a ton to keep exploring here, especially when you throw into the mix the text-critical issues involved in 2:4 and Hebrews 10:38-39’s quote of the LXX. NT use of Habakkuk 2:4 would make a good doctoral dissertation if I were interested in doing New Testament.
5) The evidence that chapter 3 is an integral part of the book, not a later addition, is very strong. Robertson’s list of the internal evidence (p. 213) was especially helpful. He shows how chapter 3 completes the Lord’s answer in 2:2-2:20: without Habakkuk’s prayer for revival (3:2), the vision of God (3:3-3:15), and Habakkuk declaration of joy and confidence amidst desolation (3:16-19), we would be left in the dark as to how Habakkuk and the faithful remnant in Judah responded to the Lord’s declarations of woe to Babylon. The declaration of judgment on Babylon in chapter 2 is the crucial part of God’s response to Habakkuk; but the prayer, vision, and declaration in chapter 3 are Habakkuk’s response to God. Both are necessary to the book’s message as a whole.
6) My summary of the five woe oracles of 2:2-2:20:
2:6-8: the repayment of evil to the evil-doer
2:9-11: the insecurity of wicked gain
2:12-14: the futility of opposition to God
2:15-17: the reciprocity of shameful treatment of others
2:18-2:20: the folly of idolatry
Roberton is helpful in bringing out the high irony and the numerous literary devices at play throughout this section.
7) What I see as the ultimate message of the book is the call to walk by faith even in the darkest days, when all hope seems to have gone out – even when God seems to have undone his very promises, as it must have appeared during the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple during the Babylonian exile. Biblical faith trusts in God even during unthinkable suffering (1:5-11, 2:4), it finds joy and strength in God even amidst utterly desolate circumstances (3:17-19). It could not be further from mere intellectual assent, or the prosperity gospel, or a vague optimism about life. Biblical faith glorifies God.
“Faithfulness requires a continuation in the relationship with God, even when experience outstrips faith and the purpose in continuing to believe is called into question. The life of faith does not require reason and knowledge to be abandoned, as Habakkuk’s persistent questioning makes clear. But the life of faith may require continuing belief, even though reason and knowledge have long since been exhausted” (Cragie, 93).