1:1-4 Habakkuk Complains to God About Judah’s Lawlessness and the Triumph of Iniquity

 1:1 The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. RSV – “The oracle of God which Habakkuk the prophet saw.”

The burden– Hebrew – ‘masa’ – an oracle, revelation, utterance or prophecy. In almost every instance pronouncing heavy judgment on a place or people (Isa 14:28; 15:1; Ezek 12:10; Hos 8:10; Nahum 1:1).

did see– He sets out to record things made known to him by God. He saw them and they were not of his own prompting. The Spirit revealed the things he records, namely, the vision of the Chaldean invasion (1:5-11), the taunting proverb (ch 2) and the vision of divine intervention (ch 3). Thus holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:20-21; Psa 45:1 mg; Jer 20:9; Heb 1:1; Num 23:26).

He was commanded of God to “write the vision” and make it plain upon tables that those to whom it applied might read it and be warned (2:2).

1:2 O Lord, how long shall I cry and thou wilt not hear? Even cry out unto thee of violence and thou wilt not save?

 “O Lord, how long shall I cry and thou wilt not hear?” – In his days, the iniquity of the King Jehoiakim characterised the people too. The reforms of Josiah some years earlier had not gone far beyond the king himself. His heart was right with God, but Judah, said Yahweh, “hath not turned unto me with her whole heart, but feignedly” (mg – “in falsehood”) (Jer 3:6,10). Since the removal of this outstanding king the moral condition of Judah continued to slump and Jeremiah’s words illustrate the depths of godlessness reached by the privileged people (cp Jer 9:1-6). Here Jeremiah despairs over the treachery of his people and desires to depart from them. But Judah was not as other people. Being privileged they had responsibilities. Failure to respond meant judgment. Hence with propriety, Habakkuk calls for God’s vengeance (cp Amos 3:2, Hos 5:5).

See notes on “how long” (2:6).

“Even cry out unto thee of violence and thou wilt not save?” – It appears that to make a stand for truth was to jeopardise one’s life (Isa 59:15). Divine intervention was necessary for life to be preserved. Jeremiah was promised divine protection when called upon to warn godless Judah (Jer 1:18-19). His life was preserved despite treachery from his own people (11:21; 12:6). He was placed in stocks and smitten (20:1-2); sought by Jehoiakim (36:26); smitten and placed in a dungeon (37:15-16). Today we can thank God for the privilege of being able to worship Him with freedom of conscience and without fear of molestation. Such blessings have not always been the lot of the ecclesia in gentile times (Rev 13:15).

1:3 Why dost thou show me iniquity and cause me to behold grievance? For spoiling and grievance are before me and there are that raise up strife and contention.

 God has a purpose in exposing His saints to evil situations. Thus Jesus prayed, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (Jn 17:15). Why? Paul says that it is according to God’s reason: “For the creation was made subject to vanity (or evil), not willingly, but by reason of him (ie God) who hath subjected the same in hope” (Rom 8:20). The context of Romans 8 explains why. Affliction makes one appreciate the goodness and justice of God and makes hope strong. Faith also is evidenced by patient waiting for the fulfilment of divine promises. Continual exposure to evil either stifles hope or causes it to burn brighter (cp Lam 3:22-32).

1:4 Therefore the law is slacked and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.

 Therefore the law is slacked– He is concerned with blatant disregard for the Law and hence the Giver of it. On this ground he is moved to solicit an open display of Divine judgment.

“For the wicked doth compass (RSV “surround”) the righteous– Compare this description with the slaughter of Naboth and his sons by Jezebel when they sought to uphold the laws regulating the inheritance of land (1 Kings 21:1-16; Lev 25:23). Innocent blood was being shed, but God purposed to take away the righteous from even worse evils to come (Isa 57:1).

Therefore wrong judgment proceedeth– RSV – “So justice goes forth perverted”. Bribery, the handmaiden of injustice, was rife though condemned by the Law (cp Isa 59:9; Exod 23:8; Psa 15:5).

1:5-12 In Answer the Terrible Chaldean Invasion is Announced by God

 1:5 Behold ye among the heathen and regard and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days which ye will not believe though it be told you.

 “Behold ye among the heathen and regard and wonder marvellously” – Roth – “And look around, yea, stand still – stare”; RSV – “wonder and be astonished”. Note carefully what is being said. Habakkuk is commanded to survey the nations and in so doing he would be astounded. Why? Because from such a survey he would behold the growing might of the Chaldeans with whom God would “work a work” (namely, that of punishing Judah). God declared that Habakkuk would not believe what He intended to do with the Chaldeans even though it should be told to him. God knew this for He knows what is in man’s heart. He knew the prophet would recoil at the thought of Him using the ruthless Chaldean to judge His people. He was right. Habakkuk was astounded when he heard what God proposed – so much so that he charged God with injustice against His people! He did not believe God would do such a thing. He disbelieved the Word, and was later rebuked and warned to be faithful and patient. He must await the outworking of God’s purpose – injustice would not triumph! God adds that his soul which is lifted up (ie presumes against the Word) is not upright or acceptable, and that “the just shall live by faith”. Habakkuk at length learned this lesson and finally he humbly submitted to God. He heard what God’s ultimate purpose was and feared (3:2). He came to appreciate that God was just and would not tolerate evil-doers. So he rejoiced in this hope (3:16-19). His perspectives were thus completely transformed.

This is the personal drama of the book. An unbelieving Jew hears, appreciates and heartily accepts the purpose of God after a period of doubt and incredulity. It is thus very appropriate that the apostles should quote from this book in order to illustrate the importance and nature of faith (see 2:4).

In particular this verse is quoted in Acts 13:41. A parallel situation existed in Paul’s day. God was “working a work” among the nations which Jewry would not believe, though it was being told to them by the apostle Paul; namely, He was “taking out of the nations a people for His name” on the principle of faith (Acts 15:14; 13:2; 14:26). This was told the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch but, as with Habakkuk of old, they refused to believe.

Because of this unbelief, God would later do another work among the nations. He would bring the Roman Babylon against Judea and destroy the State and scatter its people. This too had been declared by the apostles and prophets (Dan 8:11; 9:27; Acts 6:14; Luke 21:20-24; Matt 22:7; Jas 4:1).

But Paul’s quotation of Hab 1:5 in Acts 13:41 varies from the AV. Compare both:


He is quoting from the Septuagint version in which there are some changes and the injunction is not applied to Habakkuk in particular but unbelieving Judah. It is notable too that Paul says in Acts 13:40, “Beware therefore, lest that come upon you which is spoken of in the prophets. In Luke’s condensation of Paul’s speech all the references are not “on the surface”. Probably Isaiah 29:14 was another one referred to because of the similar phraseology and also because the Lord used it of the blindness and faithlessness of Israel in his day (Mk 7:6-9; Matt 15:8-9): “Therefore, behold I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid”.