How long, O Lord?
I cry for help but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene.
Habakkuk is the eighth of the twelve Minor Prophets. No one really knows what his name means— maybe “plant” or “fruit tree,” or it could mean “ardent embrace”! What we do know is that the prophet wrote between 612 and 597 B.C., when the Babylonians were building up their empire after the fall of the Assyrians.
The book opens with a complaint: Habakkuk wants to know how long his words will fall on God’s seemingly deaf ears—the Babylonians have begun their reign of terror, “plundering and violence” are everywhere, and “contention and discord [are] flourishing.” To Habakkuk, it seems that God, in his silence, is rewarding the wicked and punishing the upright—a singularly un-copasetic situation. God responds by saying that the Babylonians are in fact the instruments of his punishment on the unfaithful Israelites. OK, says Habakkuk (in so many words). What must be done must be done–but how long are you going all let this continue? How long are you going to sit there and do nothing?
Habakkuk climbs up into his watchtower to wait for God’s answer. He waits and waits. Finally, God declares what becomes the central message of Habakkuk’s prophecy: The righteous who believe will live, and the wicked will bite the dust. The people of Judah must trust in God’s saving power, even it takes some time to come about.
The remainder of the book contains five curses, or woes, on Babylon, and a plea to Yahweh for deliverance. Like his contemporaries Nahum and Zephaniah, Habakkuk is favorably disposed toward the religious reforms of King Josiah.