1902 Encyclopedia > Habakkuk


HABAKKUK (_____), one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament, the eighth in order in the Massoretic text. The name of the prophet is peculiar to him, and occurs only in his own writing (i. 1; iii. 1). As to its meaning there is some uncertainty, but it is probably a formation from a verb signifying to entwine, to embrace

ad Hab.; Gesenius and Fürst on the word). In the Septuagint and with the Greek fathers it appears in the form of 'ApißaKovix, which would seem to indicate that the Hebrew was read and pronounced Habbäkuk (p-lpsn), the double b being changed for the sake of euphony into mb. The change of the h into m at the end of the word Bleek says is without analogy; but in the change of Beelzebub into Beelzebul we have an analogous instance of the substitution of a liquid for a mute,—probably because to the Greek ear it was not agreeable that a final syllable should begin and end with the same rough consonant. Of the prophet's personal history nothing is certainly known. In the inscription of his book he is simply called " the prophet"; nor can we with certainty determine at what time he lived and prophesied. From the use of the word " my " in the subscription to the psalm in chap, iii,, " To the chief singer on my stringed instrument" (ver. 19), it has been inferred that he was of the tribe of Levi, inasmuch as it is supposed from this that he held a place among those by whom officially the musical service of the temple was conducted, a place which only a Levite, it is alleged, could occupy. But this seems rather too much to build on the mere use of the word " my," nor is it quite certain that only Levites took part with stringed instruments in the service of song in the temple. King Hezekiah, after his recovery from his sickness, composed a psalm of thanks-giving, and in reference to it he says, " We will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord "; for he " had said, What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord 1" (Isa. xxxviii. 20, 22); from which it may be inferred that others besides Levites might take part in the liturgical music of the temple. Were there any truth in the assertion in the additions to Daniel in the Apocrypha that Habakkuk was sent by the Lord from Judaea to Babylon with food for Daniel in the lions' den, this would give us the date of the prophet's activity; but on such a manifest fiction nothing can be built. According to one tradition the prophet was buried at Keilah in the tribe of Judah; according to another at Hukkok (now Yakuk) in the tribe of Naphtali.

The book of Habakkuk falls into two parts,—the former of which (chaps, i. and ii.) has the inscription, " The burden which Habakkuk the prophet saw," and the latter (chap, iii.) the inscription, " Prayer" (or hymn) " of Habakkuk on Shigyonoth." Both parts have reference to the same subject, the invasion of Judah by the Chaldeans, who are expressly named (i. 6). In both this is regarded as a chastisement from the Lord upon the people for their sins; but whilst in the earlier part the prophet appears as a reprover and denouncer of evil, in the latter he gives utterance to emotions of reverence, confidence, and joy in God as the Saviour of His people. In the former part the prophecy is in the form of a dialogue between Jehovah and the prophet. The pro-phet, deeply troubled because of the corruption of his people, cries to God and asks how long such a state of things is to continue (i. 2-4); to which God replies in effect that He is about to bring on the sinful nation a heavy calamity by raising against them the Chaldeans—"that bitter and impetuous nation "—whose fierce and terrible hosts should devastate the land,—at the same time intimating that this scourge should pass away, and that the invaders, though the instruments of God's vengeance, should not be held guiltless (5-11). The prophet then appeals to God, the Everlasting and Holy One, and asks how the employment of such instruments to inflict punishment on the people of His choice is reconcilable with the divine rectitude and unchangeableness (12-17), but declares that he will stand on his watch-tower that he may learn what God will say to him, hoping that some word of comfort may be vouchsafed to him which he may carry to his people. The word comes ; the Lord will not suffer the ungodly, the transgressor, and the idolater to escape; a five-fold woe is denounced against the enemies of God's people; the just are encouraged to abide in faith, cheered with the assurance that as a result of God's judgments on the wicked the knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea; for God is in His holy temple, His purposes shall stand fast, therefore let all the earth be still and await His coming (ii. 1-20). The latter part of the book is a hymn of praise in which the prophet in his own name and that of the people celebrates the majesty and mighty deeds of the Lord, and gives exulting expression to the confidence and joy with which His true subjects rest in Him (iii. 1-19). This hymn is in form and style like one of the Psalms, and was doubtless intended for use in the temple service. To some it has appeared that this third chapter is wholly unconnected with the two preceding. But though different in character and style, it stands closely connected in substance with what goes before, and forms with this one whole. In the former part we have the burden which the prophet had to bear to the people ; in the latter we have the utterance of the feelings produced by the con-templation of the facts and revelations therein set forth, viewed in the light of God's manifestations of Himself on behalf of His people in former times.

This book, which it is generally agreed was written by the prophet himself, forms one of the finest remains of ancient Hebrew literature. In conception and style it is not inferior to any production of the most flourishing age of prophecy. The language is pure, the thought is lofty, and in the construction artistic skill is displayed. With the mantle of the prophet the author bears also the chaplet of the poet.

At what time Habakkuk prophesied remains uncertain. From i. 5, 6, where the invasion of Israel by the Chaldeans is represented as a thing so strange as to be incredible when announced, it has been inferred that the prophecy was uttered whilst as yet the people of Israel were unacquainted with the Chaldeans as a warlike power,—long, therefore, before the battle of Carchemish (606 B.C.), in which Necho, king of Egypt, was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar. The date of the prophecy has accordingly by some been relegated to the reign of Manasseh ; and this has been supposed to receive confirmation from the fact that during that reign there were pro-phets who foretold the coming on the nation of a calamity such as that the ears of all who heard of it should tingle (2 Kings xxi. 10 #.) ; and of these prophets Habakkuk may have been one. The words of the prophet, however, do not necessarily imply that at the time he uttered his prophecy the people were so ignorant of the Chaldeans that they could not believe what he was commissioned to announce to them regarding an invasion of the country by that "bitter and hasty" nation; it is rather the immediateness and terribleness of the catastrophe which he represents as what would pass belief, even when announced by a prophet of the Lord. It is further to be observed that his words imply that the calamity he was sent to announce would happen in the days of those to whom he spoke, which could hardly be said of a generation that had reached adult age during the latter half of Manasseh's reign, that is, fully sixty years before the invasion of Judah by Nebuchad-nezzar. It may be added that it is very improbable that during the reign of Manasseh, when idolatry had to such an extent super-seded the worship of Jehovah, such a psalm as that of chap. iii. would have been composed for the temple service by any one living in Judah. A later date, it would thus appear, must be assigned to the prophecy. Vitringa has suggested that it was uttered in the time of Josiah, and this is accepted by Delitzsch and others. To this it has been objected that the state of things described in the beginning of the book does not accord with what we know to have been the state of things in Josiah's reign, and moreover that the declaration that the calamity threatened should happen in the days of the existing generation does not tally with the assurance given by the prophetess Hnldah to King Josiah, that the evil the Lord was about to bring upon Jerusalem should not happen in his day (2 Kings xxii. 15-20). Neither of these objections, however, has much weight. To the former it maybe replied that, though in the later part of Josiah's reign a better state of things than that described by the prophet prevailed, in the early part of it things were pro-bably exactly such as he represents ; and to the latter it may be replied that the two declarations are not irreconcilable, for though the invasion of the Chaldeans might happen in the time of the existing generation to whom the prophet spoke, it might be not till after the death of Josiah that Jerusalem should be taken ; which in point of fact was the case. A more serious objection is that the psalm in chap. iii. could not have been composed in the early part of Josiah's reign before the reforms which he introduced had been beo-un, and that the first and second chapters could not have been uttered after these had been inaugurated, because then the state of things there described did not exist. To meet this it has been suggested that the two parts of the book may have been composed at different times, the earlier part in the beginning and the later after the middle of Josiah's reign. This is possible ; but the standpoint of the prophet is in both parts so much the same that it is not probable that any marked interval of time elapsed between the composition of the two. "We are, however, so imperfectly acquainted with the minuter details of the history of the times that for aught we can tell there may have been seasons during the reign of Josiah when the good and the evil in the nation were so mixed that a prophet, whilst denouncing the wickedness he saw around him, and threatening a woe on the nation because of it, might yet be inspired by the remembrance of God's dealings with his people in the past and the hope of better things for the future to give utterance to such a strain of adoration and exultant gladness as the hymn at the close of the book presents ; nor is there any reason to doubt that the pious king and such men as Hilkiah the high priest, and those associated with him as "rulers of the house of God" (2 Chron. xxxv. 8), would be so in sympathy with the prophet in this that they would readily approve of his psalm being consigned to "the chief singer" to be used in the temple service. An argument in favour of assigning the date of this prophecy to the reign of Josiah has been drawn from the numerous coincidences in sentiment and phraseology between this book and those of Jeremiah and Zephaniah [cf. Hab. i. 8 with Jer. v. 6, iv. 13, and Zeph. iii. 3 ; Hab. i. 13 with Jer. xii. 1 ; Hab. ii. 9 with Jer. xlix. 16 ; Hab. ii. 13 with Jer. Ii. 53 ; Hab. ii. 16 with Jer. xxv. 27 ; Hab. ii. 20 with Zeph. i. 7, &c.); and if in these instances Jeremiah and Zephaniah have imitated Habakkuk or quoted from him, the argument must be held conclusive, for both these prophets began to prophesy in the later part of the reign of Josiah. De "Wette, Hitzig, Ewald, Bleek, and others assign the prophecy to the reign of Jehoiakim ; but for this there seems no good reason. (W. L. A.)

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries