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Habakkuk

I can’t remember the last time I heard a speaker or teacher direct my attention to the prophet Habakkuk.  Rereading his short, three chapter book, I’m wondering why.  There’s a lot there to build up believers, as the New Testament writers clearly understood. 
By PAUL ZILMER
Read Time: 4 minutes

I hope that you are joining with others regularly to consider God’s word, even though we’re all mostly doing so remotely these days.  Interacting with others when they are just a small box on a screen isn’t the same, but it is far better than isolation!  Just ask brothers and sisters who live all the time isolated from fellow-believers.

As I’m reading Habakkuk, I’m thinking it would make a great Bible discussion class.  So if you and a few others get together on-screen, and you’ve been looking around for topics, here are a few starter thoughts for a discussion based in Habakkuk.  Hope it’s useful, and beyond the one class you might get out of it, perhaps it can be a model for developing your own discussion points based in other books.

  • Who and when?  We get no clues about who he was.  For when, 1:6 sounds like the Chaldeans are just coming to Judah’s attention as a power to be concerned about, which would make Habakkuk contemporary with Jeremiah, possibly during the reign of Jehoiakim.  Note that 1:2-4 seems like a strong echo of things Jeremiah had to say.
  • Develop an outline of the book.  (Nope, not going to do it for you!)  This exercise I always find valuable, and always productive of good discussion about the content of the book.  The following are a few specific items to talk about as you go:
  1. 1:1 – The “burden” (KJV) is rendered by many versions as “oracle” or “pronouncement”.  Something spoken.  So how is it something the prophet saw?
  2. When Paul addresses the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13, he concludes his speech by quoting Hab 1:5How is this relevant to Paul’s message?  Note that he appears to expect his hearers to be familiar with the context of the verse—discuss how it applies.  This “closing argument” seems to lead directly to people begging for more (Acts 13:41-43).  Does it do that to you?
  3. 1:11 makes me think of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, especially verse 30.  Those events are still future when Habakkuk writes, but it shows that God knows what sort of ruler He is raising up in Babylon.
  4. The prophet’s complaint in 1:13-17 really resonates.  Not just with us—the seeming injustice of the wicked prospering has caused others to cry out similarly.  This is really a separate study of its own, but compare with Job 21:7-21, Psalms 37 & 73, Psalm 92:5-15, Ecclesiastes 8:11-14, Jeremiah 12:1-4.  There is an answer, as almost all these writers eventually realize and express.
  5. What is Habakkuk’s reaction to the successes of the wicked?  Seems to me the perfect response, a real example for us, given in 2:1.  This is what we too can do: take our stand at the watch post, station ourselves on the tower and look out to see what will happen.  Just what Jesus tells us to do—watch!
  6. The Lord’s answer starting in 2:2 is strongly echoed by Peter – see 2 Pet 3:9.  Do you think Peter had this passage in mind?
  7. 2:4 is quoted by Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11, and by the writer to the Hebrews in 10:38 (somewhat embellished).  A big deal is made of this verse once the new covenant of righteousness by faith and grace has replaced the old covenant of law.  What do you think of the context?  Does it seem to support the usage made of it in the NT?
  8. Take note of the five woes pronounced in 2:6-20.  Not only are they the ultimate response to Habakkuk’s complaint, but they certainly lay out attitudes and actions that we don’t want any part of.  What specific pitfalls might we fall into, that would cause us to come under one of these woes?
  9. 2:20 is just a beautiful thought.  Worthy of putting up on the wall in our home or the place we gather to worship.  Worthy to be set to music—as it has been—and sung often.
  10. Chapter 3 is a prayer.  When we have prayers recorded, I always feel I should see whether I can identify.  Is this something I would pray, and if not right now, can I think of circumstances where I might?
  11. In chapter 3 the prophet expresses what the wrath of God is going to look like.  (Even though he puts it in past tense, I think we need to see it as prophecy.  Maybe the past tense explains that he “saw” the oracle as a vision?)  The answer to the ageless question about the wicked prospering is right here, and is also noted by many of the other writers mentioned above.  The wicked have made their choice; God held off for a long time, but ultimately the wicked reap what they have sown.  In the midst of that, notice the prayer, “In wrath remember mercy.” (v 2)  Which of course God does.  Also the prophet gets it, understands: “You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed.” (v 13)  God rescues those who are His, that’s what His judgments are for!  Deliverance from every oppressor.
  12. 3:17-19 is a truly amazing expression of looking beyond present pain and trouble, trusting in God; and more, actually rejoicing in God even through the trouble!  This message of confidence is another one to put on the wall.  To set to music—as it has been—and sung often.  To be remembered in the troubles we have right now.
  13. The final few words (3:19) are direction “to the choirmaster” or “chief singer”, like many psalms.  This whole book was set to music!  (Maybe the tune was Shigionoth? v 1)  Not only that, most versions note that the accompaniment is not just “stringed instruments”, but “my stringed instruments”.  Habakkuk was apparently an instrument maker, perhaps in inventor of instruments. It’s well known that when words are set to music they are remembered better.  Is there anything we can do, in our present circumstances, to take advantage of this?

God bless your studies!
With love,
Paul

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