As mentioned in our discussion of the Mosaic covenant, an important theme in the Old Testament is that of the land. Whereas Moses and Joshua guided the people of Israel into the Promised Land, the Minor Prophets had the great task of pronouncing God's judgment upon the people for their disobedience and helping them understand God's work in exiling them from the land.14 The Minor Prophets is the representative name for twelve books of the Old Testament. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are called "minor" prophets simply for the brevity of each of the writings. In fact, all the Minor Prophets appear together as just one book in the Hebrew Bible which is simply entitled the twelve. The other Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel produced much longer works and are sometimes known as the Major Prophets.
In general, a prophet in the Old Testament was a person called upon to speak to the people on behalf of God. They were called to be his direct messengers to the people. Now before you start thinking "Wow, what a great job!" remember that many times the message they were to carry was something like this: "You guys all suck, and you are going to be destroyed if you don't repent. SO REPENT!" So these guys were not always the popular kids on American Idol. No, many times they were despised by their own people simply because they told them the truth. They also dressed weird and at times did and said all kinds of crazy things.
There are many themes found in the Minor Prophets but there are some commonalities throughout these books. James Montgomery Boice observed the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, and the love of God to call people to repentance as common themes in the Minor Prophets.15 O. Palmer Robertson makes note of the justice and judgment of God16 as well as the faithful salvation of God17 in these books. I find them both helpful in unifying the themes of these prophecies which were given in dire times for the people of God. More than anything the people needed to know that the coming judgment was from God.18 Yet God had not forsaken his promises to them as his people if they would repent and return to him, and as a consequence, a faithful remnant of Israel would be preserved and saved in the end.
We will now close by looking particularly at the prophecy of Habakkuk, ancient words given long ago to a prophet standing on the eve the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and the final defeat of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
The Book of Habakkuk
We know very little about this person Habakkuk other than what is in the text of his prophecy. We know he would have likely lived through the reforms and righteous kingship of Josiah19 (see 2 Chronicles 34 for Josiah’s reforms) as well as seeing the sharp decline under his successors. This decline culminated with the wicked leadership of Jehoiakim20 most likely the king at the fall of the Kingdom of Judah. For those interested in the full decline of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, it is described in the works of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.Time and Place of Writing
There are many important bits of information which help us to date Habakkuk’s prophecy. Each of them serves to narrow the time frame so that we have a very good approximation of the time of writing. First, we see from Habakkuk chapter 1 that the Chaldeans or Neo-Babylonians21 were already a known power which was on a conquering path. We know that the Chaldeans conquered Ninevah in 612 BC so our date for the book is likely to be after this event. Second, we see from the description in Habakkuk 1:2-4 that the Kingdom of Judah is in decline not in a state of reform or revival. This must mean it is some time after the death of the godly king Josiah which is dated to 609 BC, likely during the reign of the wicked king Jehoiakim.22 Two other dates can be brought to bear at this point. It seems the Chaldeans had not yet made their inroads into Jerusalem so this puts Habakkuk’s writing before the final fall of Judah in 587 BC. Additionally, the coming of the Chaldeans was still in the future during Habakkuk’s writings so we must place it even before the first victory they had over a combined Egyptian-Assyrian force in Syro-Palestine in 605 BC.23 So this puts the date between the first defeat in 605 BC and the death of the king Josiah in 609 BC. So by inference, a date somewhere around 605-608 BC is likely. The following table shows the dates of the relevant events:Table 1: Events surrounding the writing of Habakkuk
|612 BC||Fall of Nineveh|
|609BC||Death of Judean King Josiah|
|608-605 BC||Writing of Habakkuk|
|605 BC||Defeat of Egyptian/Assyrian army in Palestine|
|597 BC||First Exiles to Babylon|
|587 BC||Final Conquering of Jerusalem|
One interesting note of history about the king Jehoiakim is warranted. This king’s evil doings became notorious. His reputation was so evil in the eyes of God and people that Jeremiah said the following of him at his death:
18 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah: “They shall not lament for him, saying, ‘Ah, my brother!’ or ‘Ah, sister!’ They shall not lament for him, saying, ‘Ah, lord!’ or ‘Ah, his majesty!’ 19 With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” Jeremiah 22:18,19 ESV
As the old King James translation puts it, this king received the burial of an ass. You can guess what kind of guy he was. You must be a real donkey if God has his prophet promise you the burial of a donkey.Form and Purpose for the Prophecy Literary Form
Habakkuk's prophecy is unique in that it records the prophet's personal interactions with God. This is a word given to the prophet about the people, but not directly to them. The book takes the form of a series of questions from Habakkuk and subsequent answers from God. It is sort of like getting to live in Habakkuk's head for a bit. I know some of the interactions I have with God in the privacy of my own soul; this book is a great look into such a dialogue. So this divine Q and A is the main literary structure of the book. Additionally there are two other literary styles of note. First, there is a taunting or mocking song given24 by God in chapter two (yes, God does talk smack in the Bible…not in arrogance, but in truth) towards the evil Chaldean empire. Yes, he was allowing their success in conquering Judah, but they would in no way be excused for all their evil doing and excess. Finally, chapter three includes a psalm of worship by the prophet which sets up the culminating message of the book.Purpose of the Prophecy
The purpose of the prophecy was to prepare a people to live faithfully amidst an unexpected downturn of events. Judah was in a state of internal sin and chaos where both justice and religion were being perverted. As a consequence they were about to be conquered as discipline from God. God wanted his people to know several things during this time of discipline and turmoil. First, the righteous would live by faith in the midst of the discipline. They would trust God in the middle of the storm. Secondly, he wanted them to know that their hope was in Him, not simply their temporal circumstances. This prophecy was also to steady the people of God through one of their darkest hours of exile from the Promised Land. They were not to lose hope; they were to persevere in faith. I believe the same purposes are eternally relevant for the people of God for we all travel through many troubles and trials in life and we too must persevere. The many themes found in this book establish our faith, trust, and hope in God which transcends our circumstances. We will close our discussion with a brief look at the themes found in Habakkuk.
14. O. Palmer Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 1.
15. See the preface to James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets, 2 vols., vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006).
16. Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, 21, 22.
17. Ibid., 24.
18. Assyria was the conquering power for the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Babylonians for the Southern Kingdom of Judah
19. Boice, 391.
20. Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, 13.
21. The word used for these people in the Old Testament is Kasdim
22. J. J. M. Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah: A Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press, 1991), 83.
23. There is an excellent timeline of events from the 7th century BC in Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, 29, 30.
24. Frank Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor's Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 495.
Up Next - Final Part of the Paper - The Major Themes of Habakkuk