Habakkuk is one of the most lyrically-beautiful books in all the bible. In Hebrew it is a beautiful poem that records both the prophet’s conversation with God about why evil has been allowed to continue among His people for so long (chapters 1-2), and a glorious description of God’s majesty (chapter 3). The last chapter reads much like a psalm, and forms an acrostic in Hebrew, which aid in memorizing it.
The prophet Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah, and his book dates from the first deportation of Jews to captivity in Babylon (about 606 BC, when Judah’s princes, and high nobles like Daniel, were removed). This is an unusual book because it records a discussion between the prophet and God (instead of between the prophet and the people); Habakkuk complains about what seems (to his people) to be God’s unfairness in punishing Judah’s sins but not the Babylonians’, who were no more godly or righteous than Judah. He also protests against having to witness what would happen to his people. God replies that He was not over-looking Babylon’s injustices or cruelties, and that He was also prepared to judge them (they are called Chaldeans in 1:6).
We know virtually nothing about the prophet himself; his name appears only in this book, and it does not appear to be originally a Hebrew name at all. Most scholars believe that it means to embrace or an ardent embrace, and that it probably alludes to Habakkuk’s “lifting” his concern for Judah’s condition up to God. Habakkuk’s work as a prophet seems to date from the early time of Babylon’s domination of Judah (c. 630 -605 B.C.). This makes him a contemporary with kings Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jehoiachin, as well as Zedekiah and Gedeliah (governor), as well as fellow prophets Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zephaniah. He probably wrote during the reign of king Jehoiakim, who was noted for his evil-doing and for rebelling against the Babylonians.
The “key words” in Habakkuk are justice and salvation, and the prophet’s question “O Lord, how long shall I cry … Why?” is the main thought, expressing frustration and anguish at what was happening to his own people because they stubbornly persisted in sin. As with his fellow prophets, it was terribly hard for Habakkuk to know about and watch the suffering that was to come on his people because they refused to repent. Even though the Lord assured him that idolatrous Babylon would also be punished for their sins, it still challenged Habakkuk’s faith to know that Judah would be punished first, by the Babylonians. One of the hardest lessons the ancient Jews had to learn was that God could use people who were “worse” than they were as His instruments to punish them! Even as Habakkuk was focused on the Babylonians’ military might, God was telling him that they would eventually become “plunder” for others be-cause of their own sins.