I. HIS NAME. Habakkuk i.e. "One who embraces" - a name singularly appropriate in its significance to the man who "rested in the Lord, and waited patiently for him" through the dark days. Luther applied the name to the prophet's regard for his people, "embracing them, taking them to his arms, comforting them, and lifting them up as one embraces a weeping child, to quiet it with the assurance that, if God will, it shall be better soon." Jewish tradition has identified him with the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:18), and with the watchman sent by Isaiah to the watch tower (21) to look towards Babylon. But with these and other merely fanciful and utterly unreliable traditions the silence of Scripture very favourably contrasts. It makes him known to us through his teaching. It is the message rather than the messenger that is presented to us here; yet through the message we get to know the man so intimately that he becomes to us quite a familiar presence.
II. HIS OFFICE. "Habakkuk the prophet." This title clearly indicates that he had been appointed to the prophetical office. Many men in Old Testament times uttered certain prophecies, as for instance Moses, David, Solomon, Daniel, but we do not find the title "the prophet" appended to their names, it being given simply to such as were specially chosen and set apart to this office. The closing words of the book (Habakkuk 3:19) have led some to regard him as belonging to one of the Levitical families, and as appointed to take part in the liturgical services of the temple; but of this we cannot speak with any degree of certainty, though probably it was so.
III. HIS PROPHECY. This is described as "the burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see." The phrase is peculiar, but the meaning is clear. He saw a vision of coming events, in which solemn Divine judgments would be executed both against his own people and their oppressors; and the scene of impending woe oppressed his spirit and lay as a heavy weight upon his soul. Still, dark as the outlook was, and oppressed in heart as he felt himself to be amidst the mysteries of life viewed in relation to the Divine government, he maintained throughout unswervingly his trust in God; and which so clearly pervaded his spirit and so repeatedly revealed itself in his expressions as amply to justify the representation that he is "eminently the prophet of reverential, awe-filled faith." Viewed from a literary standpoint, his prophecy may well exite our profoundest interest. Critical writers with one consent bear testimony to the beauty of his contributions to these sacred oracles. Ewald calls the book "Habakkuk's Pindaric Ode." Delitzsch says of it, "His language is classical throughout, full of rare and select words and turns, which are to some extent exclusively his own, whilst his view and mode of presentation bear the seal of original force and finished beauty." Pusey observes, "Certainly the purity of his language and the sublimity of his imagery is, humanly speaking, magnificent; his measured cadence is impressive in its simplicity." But valuable as this composition is in this respect, its great charm consists in the spirit of holy trustfulness which it breathes. As we ponder over its contents we feel at every stage our lack of confidence in our God reproved, and are impelled to cry, "Lord, we believe: help thou our unbelief" (Mark 9:24); "Lord, increase our faith" (Luke 17:5). - S.D.H.
The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see.: — We can see how appropriate is the word "burden" used by the prophets to describe their gift and duty. The obligation laid on them often involved strain and danger. And yet it was a glorious privilege to be commissioned by God, to act for Him, to be His mouthpiece to the people. Habakkuk's burden was the sight of the general evil and corruption prevalent in the Holy Land, among the chosen people. What burden can be heavier than this, to see evil prevail among God's people, and to be unable to remedy it? Two lessons —
1. Every privilege entails suffering.
2. Do not lose heart.The burden is laid on you by the Lord who gave you your glorious privilege. Look at the vocation, not at the burden.
I. A BURDEN OF ENLIGHTENMENT. He was —
1. A spectator of evil; looking upon the great and terrible disorders that devastated his country.
2. An inspired spectator of evil. "God showed him iniquity," etc. To see, in the light of heaven. the fearful ramifications of evil in society is an essential condition of Christian service.
3. A troubled spectator of evil. His heart strings vibrated with jarring discords at the touch of the workers of iniquity.
II. A BURDEN OF PRAYER. With a vivid consciousness of God's almighty power the prophet called upon Him to interpose and save His people. But days rolled on and lengthened into months, and still evil abounded. Oh, the burden of prayers unheard! Oh, the burden of unanswered prayers l Oh, the burden of delay! The heart grows sick with hope deferred.
III. A BURDEN OF DISCIPLINE. Designed —
1. As a test to see if they will continue to work and witness for God.
2. Still trust in the Lord, even in the presence of the great mystery of iniquity. The burden is —
3. For training, that God's servants may become strong in faith, giving glory to God.
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