Habakkuk 1

1 Habakkuk, whose name means "strong embrace," identifies himself as a prophet, which is rare in the Bible. Haggai and Zechariah are the only other two which have this title added to their names. However, groups of prophets are mentioned in the Bible, and Habakkuk may have been one of these. This is the only reference to him in the Bible. There are not any concrete events mentioned to give us an accurate date, but Wickliffe suggests a range of 612-605 BC - between the fall of Nineveh and the first invasion of Judah by Babylon. This would seemingly give the best context so that the listener of that time they would know who the Chaldeans were, but before they were overrun in order to be a prophecy and a warning.

The word "oracle" here means "heavy load," and indicates that it is an unpleasant, ominous message that is difficult to accept and deliver. Yet, he had seen it, presumably in a vision, and wrote it down to warn the people.

2 This book is like a question and answer interview with God. Josiah was a good king over Israel, but after he died in 609 BC, his son, Jehoiakim, was an evil king (2 Ki 22:1, 2 Ki 23:34-37). After Pharaoh had defeated Josiah, he demanded a high tribute, and Jehoiakim extracted it from the people with heavy taxes. The oppression of Israel by Egypt and its own king may have been the foundation for Habakkuk's woeful questions. In addition, the people were likely following the example of their evil king, and leaving the way of God. The word for "violence" has a much broader meaning, including moral wrongs against others. Habakkuk had been praying intensely about this situation for some time. Why did it seem like God was not hearing and stepping in to correct the problems?
3 Seeing wickedness and violence is distressing for most everyone, and seemingly more so for those who want to see people love God and each other. Having discernment between good and evil can be very upsetting because we live in a world tainted by sin, and we cannot escape from witnessing it. Sometimes we might be tempted to think that God is not doing anything about the world's problems, thus forcing the righteous to endure while evils multiply.
4 One might conclude that because God has not corrected problems, the wicked increase in activity and numbers. It seemed to Habakkuk that the righteous were outnumbered to the extent that they could not have a positive impact on society. Corruption extended even into the legal system. Neither the religious Law nor the civil laws were being upheld. The laws essentially had no objective power in the hands of dishonest men.
5 God responds that He has not been watching idly. In fact, He had already started something among the Gentile nations that would be doubly astonishing to Habakkuk and the rest of the Jews. They would find it unimaginable to believe what God would pronounce next: that He would direct a far away, pagan nation to conquer His people and destroy His Temple.
6 If this prophecy happened after Babylon conquered Nineveh, then the Jews would have heard the reports of the Chaldeans' fierceness. After all, Assyria was known as a strong, cruel, and ruthless nation - how much more the one that conquered it! Babylon's desire to overthrow and possess was insatiable, and God would eventually allow them to spread their domain from Turkey to Egypt. While the people beheld the Babylonians from a distance, they would soon see them up close.

The Chaldeans were a Semitic people descended from Chesed the son of Nahor, the brother of Abraham (Gen 22:22). This people continued to live in the area after Abraham left and were the dominant group by the time Babylon entered its empire age.

7 The Babylonians had a fearsome reputation, which can be attributed mostly to their lack of accountability. They did not subject themselves to any higher power or seek "consent from the governed." Instead, they made their own rules and acted in whatever way seemed appropriate to themselves under the circumstances. They were self-made, self-sufficient, and proud. They did not need help from anyone, so they did not try to please anyone.
8 Horses were an advancement in warfare over the sole use of foot soldiers. Horses gave the rider greater speeds, greater vision, a "high ground" while fighting, a larger presence, and another set of weapons in their hooves. The Babylonian horses were especially noted for their "lightness of foot." Perhaps they were so swift and nimble that they seemed to hardly touch the ground. The horses themselves seemed to have a sense for battle and seeking out where the next "kill" would be - like wolves who attacked fiercely at night because they had not eaten all day. The mounted army traveled from far away, but that did not weary them or sap their enthusiasm. They would gallop into battle and seem like eagles swooping down to devour their helpless prey.
9 The Chaldean army is portrayed as a violent crowd, sweeping everything away like the scorching east wind notorious in those parts. They are powerful enough to bring innumerable people into captivity.
10 The Chaldeans were so powerful that it was ludicrous to oppose them. In a mixture of pride, arrogance, and bravado, they felt there was no king or fortress they could not easily capture. They were adept at quickly throwing up siege mounds against cities. This allowed the outside army to fight on the same level as the walls or give them entrance into the besieged city over the rampart.
11 During this era, they would seem as invincible and unstoppable as a destructive wind, but their successful warfare would one day end. Their weakness was that they trusted in their strength. "Might makes right," or, "Only the strong survive" might have been their mottos if they had lived in modern times, but financial, physical, and political powers are useless when one is judged by God. They felt as though there was no authority other than their own, but they would eventually find out that God's is the only one that people should be accountable to (e.g., Dan 4:30-32).
12 This pronouncement was stunning, and the prophet has questions. Yet, he begins by putting things into perspective. He beings with a rhetorical question that is implicitly answered "yes." Essentially, he is reminding himself that God existed before all thing, He is the "I AM," He is his personal God, and He is holy (perfectly right). Where the Chaldeans worshiped their own strength, Habakkuk recognized that God was the true Rock, the only unchangeable and strong foundation. Because of His nature and promises, the prophet took comfort in knowing that there would always be a remnant if Israel, even though this punishment would be severe (Psa 118:18, Jer 30:11).

Habakkuk acknowledges that God has the right to judge and to choose the instrument with which to do it. He could tell that God had determined this thing to happen because Israel was too far gone in rebellion to repent.

13 Habakkuk does not deny that Israel has sinned, but he is curious why God would choose a completely pagan nation to punish them. God in His purity cannot tolerate evil, obviated by the need to punish Israel, so why would he favor the wicked and ruthless Chaldeans? Knowing the character of God, this course of action seemed puzzling to the prophet. Several have noted the similar tone between this verse and Abraham's plea on Sodom and Gomorrah's behalf (Gen 18:23).
14 To further illustrate his point, he pictures the Babylonians to fishermen. It seemed to the prophet that in comparison to the Chaldeans, other people were lowly esteemed, like fish or insects caught, killed, and eaten without reservation, rather than God's image bearers. The people seemed as if they had no ruler to organize, teach, and lead them. In the face of the Chaldean army, they completely fell apart.
15 As a fisherman is happy when he catches a large number of fish, so the Babylonians also rejoiced in their military victories. The hook and net are probably both metaphors for military tactics, although as Barnes notes, the hook could represent deceptive practices where only one person need be fooled to win the battle. For instance, the Babylonians may have made deals with some kings, only to turn against them once the unsuspecting and trusting rulers made themselves vulnerable. There are also cases when the king or military leader was killed, then the resolve of the army dissipated. Thus, in some battles it was only necessary to kill or trick one person to gain the victory.
16 The Chaldeans, though, are short-sited. They judged the outcomes by their circumstances, thinking that it was their strength, techniques, weapons, and gods that gave them victory and bountiful booty. This chapter specifically focuses on their self-idolatry, and it is likely that they revered their weapons of war and their physical prowess as if they were deities, which was the case in several other military nations throughout history. They did not know God nor understand that it was He who was "raising them up." Thus, they were offending God by their misplaced worship and false sense of self-reliance.
17 Habakkuk asks how long this will continue. Would God allow them to continually capture and toss aside nations as a fisherman would empty his net and then put it back in the water for another catch? Would He really honor such a nation that does these things?