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As it has reached us, the Book of Habakkuk, under the title The Oracle which Habakkuk the prophet received by vision, consists of three chapters, which fall into three sections. First: chap. i. 2—ii. 4 (or 8), a piece in dramatic form; the prophet lifts his voice to God against the wrong and violence of which his whole horizon is full, and God sends him answer. Second: chap. ii. 5 (or 9)-20, a taunt-song in a series of Woes upon the wrong-doer. Third: chap. iii., part psalm, part prayer, descriptive of a Theophany and expressive of Israel’s faith in their God. Of these three sections no one doubts the authenticity of the first; opinion is divided about the second; about the third there is a growing agreement that it is not a genuine work of Habakkuk, but a poem from a period after the Exile.

1. CHAP. I. 2—II. 4 (OR 8).

Yet it is the first piece which raises the most difficult questions. All[313] admit that it is to be dated somewhere along the line of Jeremiah’s long career, c. 627—586. There is no doubt about the general trend of the argument: it is a plaint to God on the sufferings of 116 the righteous under tyranny, with God’s answer. But the order and connection of the paragraphs of the argument are not clear. There is also difference of opinion as to who the tyrant is—native, Assyrian or Chaldee; and this leads to a difference, of course, about the date, which ranges from the early years of Josiah to the end of Jehoiakim’s reign, or from about 630 to 597.

As the verses lie, their argument is this. In chap. i. 2–4 Habakkuk asks the Lord how long the wicked are to oppress the righteous, to the paralysing of the Torah, or Revelation of His Law, and the making futile of judgment. For answer the Lord tells him, vv. 5–11, to look round among the heathen: He is about to raise up the Chaldees to do His work, a people swift, self-reliant, irresistible. Upon which Habakkuk resumes his question, vv. 12–17, how long will God suffer a tyrant who sweeps up the peoples into his net like fish? Is he to go on with this for ever? In ii. 1 Habakkuk prepares for an answer, which comes in ii. 2, 3, 4: let the prophet wait for the vision though it tarries; the proud oppressor cannot last, but the righteous shall live by his constancy, or faithfulness.

The difficulties are these. Who are the wicked oppressors in chap. i. 2–4? Are they Jews, or some heathen nation? And what is the connection between vv. 1–4 and vv. 5–11? Are the Chaldees, who are described in the latter, raised up to punish the tyrant complained against in the former? To these questions three different sets of answers have been given.

First: the great majority of critics take the wrong complained of in vv. 2–4 to be wrong done by unjust and cruel Jews to their countrymen, that is, civic disorder and violence, and believe that in vv. 5–11 117 Jehovah is represented as raising up the Chaldees to punish the sin of Judah—a message which is pretty much the same as Jeremiah’s. But Habakkuk goes further: the Chaldees themselves with their cruelties aggravate his problem, how God can suffer wrong, and he appeals again to God, vv. 12–17. Are the Chaldees to be allowed to devastate for ever? The answer is given, as above, in chap. ii. 1–4. Such is practically the view of Pusey, Delitzsch, Kleinert, Kuenen, Sinker,[314] Driver, Orelli, Kirkpatrick, Wildeboer and Davidson, a formidable league, and Davidson says “this is the most natural sense of the verses and of the words used in them.” But these scholars differ as to the date. Pusey, Delitzsch and Volck take the whole passage from i. 5 as prediction, and date it from before the rise of the Chaldee power in 625, attributing the internal wrongs of Judah described in vv. 2–4 to Manasseh’s reign or the early years of Josiah.[315] But the rest, on the grounds that the prophet shows some experience of the Chaldean methods of warfare, and that the account of the internal disorder in Judah does not suit Josiah’s reign, bring the passage down to the reign of Jehoiakim, 608—598, or of Jehoiachin, 597. Kleinert and Von 118 Orelli date it before the battle of Carchemish, 506, in which the Chaldean Nebuchadrezzar wrested from Egypt the Empire of the Western Asia, on the ground that after that Habakkuk could not have called a Chaldean invasion of Judah incredible (i. 5). But Kuenen, Driver, Kirkpatrick, Wildeboer and Davidson date it after Carchemish. To Driver it must be immediately after, and before Judah became alarmed at the consequences to herself. To Davidson the description of the Chaldeans “is scarcely conceivable before the battle,” “hardly one would think before the deportation of the people under Jehoiachin.”[316] This also is Kuenen’s view, who thinks that Judah must have suffered at least the first Chaldean raids, and he explains the use of an undoubted future in chap. i. 5, Lo, I am about to raise up the Chaldeans, as due to the prophet’s predilection for a dramatic style. “He sets himself in the past, and represents the already experienced chastisement [of Judah] as having been then announced by Jehovah. His contemporaries could not have mistaken his meaning.”

Second: others, however, deny that chap. i. 2–4 refers to the internal disorder of Judah, except as the effect of foreign tyranny. The righteous mentioned there are Israel as a whole, the wicked their heathen oppressors. So Hitzig, Ewald, König and practically Smend. Ewald is so clear that Habakkuk ascribes no sin to Judah, that he says we might be led by this to assign the prophecy to the reign of the righteous Josiah; but he prefers, because of the vivid sense which the prophet betrays of actual experience of the Chaldees, to date the 119 passage from the reign of Jehoiakim, and to explain Habakkuk’s silence about his people’s sinfulness as due to his overwhelming impression of Chaldean cruelty. König[317] takes vv. 2–4 as a general complaint of the violence that fills the prophet’s day, and vv. 5–11 as a detailed description of the Chaldeans, the instruments of this violence. Vv. 5–11, therefore, give not the judgment upon the wrongs described in vv. 2–4, but the explanation of them. Lebanon is already wasted by the Chaldeans (ii. 17); therefore the whole prophecy must be assigned to the days of Jehoiakim. Giesebrecht[318] and Wellhausen adhere to the view that no sins of Judah are mentioned, but that the righteous and wicked of chap. i. 4 are the same as in ver. 13, viz. Israel and a heathen tyrant. But this leads them to dispute that the present order of the paragraphs of the prophecy is the right one. In chap. i. 5 the Chaldeans are represented as about to be raised up for the first time, although their violence has already been described in vv. 1–4, and in vv. 12–17 these are already in full career. Moreover ver. 12 follows on naturally to ver. 4. Accordingly these critics would remove the section vv. 5–11. Giesebrecht prefixes it to ver. 1, and dates the whole passage from the Exile. Wellhausen calls 5–11 an older passage than the rest of the prophecy, and removes it altogether as not Habakkuk’s. To the latter he assigns what remains, i. 1–4, 12–17, ii. 1–5, and dates it from the reign of Jehoiakim.[319]

Third: from each of these groups of critics Budde of Strasburg borrows something, but so as to construct an 120 arrangement of the verses, and to reach a date, for the whole, from which both differ.[320] With Hitzig, Ewald, König, Smend, Giesebrecht and Wellhausen he agrees that the violence complained of in i. 2–4 is that inflicted by a heathen oppressor, the wicked, on the Jewish nation, the righteous. But with Kuenen and others he holds that the Chaldeans are raised up, according to i. 5–11, to punish the violence complained of in i. 2–4 and again in i. 12–17. In these verses it is the ravages of another heathen power than the Chaldeans which Budde descries. The Chaldeans are still to come, and cannot be the same as the devastator whose long continued tyranny is described in i. 12–17. They are rather the power which is to punish him. He can only be the Assyrian. But if that be so, the proper place for the passage, i. 5–11, which describes the rise of the Chaldeans must be after the description of the Assyrian ravages in i. 12–17, and in the body of God’s answer to the prophet which we find in ii. 2 ff. Budde, therefore, places i. 5–11 after ii. 2–4. But if the Chaldeans are still to come, and Budde thinks that they are described vaguely and with a good deal of imagination, the prophecy thus arranged must fall somewhere between 625, when Nabopolassar the Chaldean made himself independent of Assyria and King of Babylon, and 607, when Assyria fell. That the prophet calls Judah righteous is proof that he wrote after the great Reform of 621; hence, too, his reference to Torah and Mishpat (i. 4), and his complaint of the obstacles which Assyrian supremacy presented to their free course. As the Assyrian yoke appears not to have been felt anywhere in Judah by 608, Budde would 121 fix the exact date of Habakkuk’s prophecy about 615. To these conclusions of Budde Cornill, who in 1891 had very confidently assigned the prophecy of Habakkuk to the reign of Jehoiakim, gave his adherence in 1896.[321]

Budde’s very able and ingenious argument has been subjected to a searching criticism by Professor Davidson, who emphasises first the difficulty of accounting for the transposition of chap. i. 5–11 from what Budde alleges to have been its original place after ii. 4 to its present position in chap. i.[322] He points out that if chap. i. 2–4 and 12–17 and ii. 5 ff. refer to the Assyrian, it is strange the latter is not once mentioned. Again, by 615 we may infer (though we know little of Assyrian history at this time) that the Assyrian’s hold on Judah was already too relaxed for the prophet to impute to him power to hinder the Law, especially as Josiah had begun to carry his reforms into the northern kingdom; and the knowledge of the Chaldeans displayed in i. 5–11 is too fresh and detailed[323] to suit so early a date: it was possible only after the battle of Carchemish. And again, it is improbable that we have two different nations, as Budde thinks, described by the 122 very similar phrases in i. 11, his own power becomes his god, and in i. 16, he sacrifices to his net. Again, chap. i. 5–11 would not read quite naturally after chap. ii. 4. And in the woes pronounced on the oppressor it is not one nation, the Chaldeans, which are to spoil him, but all the remnant of the peoples (ii. 7, 8).

These objections are not inconsiderable. But are they conclusive? And if not, is any of the other theories of the prophecy less beset with difficulties?

The objections are scarcely conclusive. We have no proof that the power of Assyria was altogether removed from Judah by 615; on the contrary, even in 608 Assyria was still the power with which Egypt went forth to contend for the empire of the world. Seven years earlier her hand may well have been strong upon Palestine. Again, by 615 the Chaldeans, a people famous in Western Asia for a long time, had been ten years independent: men in Palestine may have been familiar with their methods of warfare; at least it is impossible to say they were not.[324] There is more weight in the objection drawn from the absence of the name of Assyria from all of the passages which Budde alleges describe it; nor do we get over all difficulties of text by inserting i. 5–11 between ii. 4 and 5. Besides, how does Budde explain i. 12b on the theory that it means Assyria? Is the clause not premature at that point? Does he propose to elide it, like Wellhausen? And in any case an erroneous transposition of the 123 original is impossible to prove and difficult to account for.[325]

But have not the other theories of the Book of Habakkuk equally great difficulties? Surely, we cannot say that the righteous and the wicked in i. 4 mean something different from what they do in i. 13? But if this is impossible the construction of the book supported by the great majority of critics[326] falls to the ground. Professor Davidson justly says that it has “something artificial in it” and “puts a strain on the natural sense.”[327] How can the Chaldeans be described in i. 5 as just about to be raised up, and in 14–17 as already for a long time the devastators of earth? Ewald’s, Hitzig’s and König’s views[328] are equally beset by these difficulties; König’s exposition also “strains the natural sense.” Everything, in fact, points to i. 5–11 being out of its proper place; it is no wonder that Giesebrecht, Wellhausen and Budde independently arrived at this conclusion.[329] Whether Budde be right in inserting i. 5–11 after ii. 4, there can be little doubt of the correctness of his views that i. 12–17 describe a heathen oppressor who is not the Chaldeans. Budde says this oppressor is Assyria. Can he be any one else? From 608 to 605 Judah was sorely beset by Egypt, who had overrun all Syria up to the Euphrates. The Egyptians killed Josiah, deposed his successor, and put their own vassal under a very heavy tribute; gold and silver were exacted of the people of the land: the picture of distress in i. 1–4 might easily be that of 124 Judah in these three terrible years. And if we assigned the prophecy to them, we should certainly give it a date at which the knowledge of the Chaldeans expressed in i. 5–11 was more probable than at Budde’s date of 615. But then does the description in chap, i. 14–17 suit Egypt so well as it does Assyria? We can hardly affirm this, until we know more of what Egypt did in those days, but it is very probable.

Therefore, the theory supported by the majority of critics being unnatural, we are, with our present meagre knowledge of the time, flung back upon Budde’s interpretation that the prophet in i. 2—ii. 4 appeals from oppression by a heathen power, which is not the Chaldean, but upon which the Chaldean shall bring the just vengeance of God. The tyrant is either Assyria up to about 615 or Egypt from 608 to 605, and there is not a little to be said for the latter date.

In arriving at so uncertain a conclusion about i.—ii. 4, we have but these consolations, that no other is possible in our present knowledge, and that the uncertainty will not hamper us much in our appreciation of Habakkuk’s spiritual attitude and poetic gifts.[330]

2. CHAP. II. 5–20.

The dramatic piece i. 2—ii. 4 is succeeded by a series of fine taunt-songs, starting after an introduction from 6b, then 9, 11, 15 and (18) 19, and each opening with 125Woe! Their subject is, if we take Budde’s interpretation of the dramatic piece, the Assyrian and not the Chaldean[331] tyrant. The text, as we shall see when we come to it, is corrupt. Some words are manifestly wrong, and the rhythm must have suffered beyond restoration. In all probability these fine lyric Woes, or at least as many of them as are authentic—for there is doubt about one or two—were of equal length. Whether they all originally had the refrain now attached to two is more doubtful.

Hitzig suspected the authenticity of some parts of this series of songs. Stade[332] and Kuenen have gone further and denied the genuineness of vv. 9–20. But this is with little reason. As Budde says, a series of Woes was to be expected here by a prophet who follows so much the example of Isaiah.[333] In spite of Kuenen’s objection, vv. 9–11 would not be strange of the Chaldean, but they suit the Assyrian better. Vv. 12–14 are doubtful: 12 recalls Micah iii. 10; 13 is a repetition of Jer. li. 58; 14 is a variant of Isa. xi. 9. Very likely Jer. li. 58, a late passage, is borrowed from this passage; yet the addition used here, Are not these things[334] from the Lord of Hosts? looks as if it noted a citation. Vv. 15–17 are very suitable to the Assyrian; there is no reason to take them from Habakkuk.[335] The final song, vv. 18 and 19, has its Woe at the beginning of its second verse, and closely resembles the language of later prophets.[336] 126Moreover the refrain forms a suitable close at the end of ver. 17. ver. 20 is a quotation from Zephaniah,[337] perhaps another sign of the composite character of the end of this chapter. Some take it to have been inserted as an introduction to the theophany in chap. iii.

Smend has drawn up a defence[338] of the whole passage, ii. 9–20, which he deems not only to stand in a natural relation to vv. 4–8, but to be indispensable to them. That the passage quotes from other prophets, he holds to be no proof against its authenticity. If we break off with ver. 8, he thinks that we must impute to Habakkuk the opinion that the wrongs of the world are chiefly avenged by human means—a conclusion which is not to be expected after chap. i.—ii. 1 ff.


The third chapter, an Ode or Rhapsody, is ascribed to Habakkuk by its title. This, however, does not prove its authenticity: the title is too like those assigned to the Psalms in the period of the Second Temple.[339] On the contrary, the title itself, the occurrence of the musical sign Selah in the contents, and the colophon suggest for the chapter a liturgical origin after the Exile.[340] That this is more probable than the alternative 127opinion, that, being a genuine work of Habakkuk, the chapter was afterwards arranged as a Psalm for public worship, is confirmed by the fact that no other work of the prophets has been treated in the same way. Nor do the contents support the authorship by Habakkuk. They reflect no definite historical situation like the preceding chapters. The style and temper are different. While in them the prophet speaks for himself, here it is the nation or congregation of Israel that addresses God. The language is not, as some have maintained, late;[341] but the designation of the people as Thine anointed, a term which before the Exile was applied to the king, undoubtedly points to a post-exilic date. The figures, the theophany itself, are not necessarily archaic, but are more probably moulded on archaic models. There are many affinities with Psalms of a late date.

At the same time a number of critics[342] maintain the genuineness of the chapter, and they have some grounds for this. Habakkuk was, as we can see from chaps. i. and ii., a real poet. There was no need why a man of his temper should be bound down to reflecting only 128 his own day. If so practical a prophet as Hosea, and one who has so closely identified himself with his times, was wont to escape from them to a retrospect of the dealings of God with Israel from of old, why should not the same be natural for a prophet who was much less practical and more literary and artistic? There are also many phrases in the Psalm which may be interpreted as reflecting the same situation as chaps. i., ii. All this, however, only proves possibility.

The Psalm has been adapted in Psalm lxxvii. 17–20.


Since this chapter was in print Nowack’s Die Kleinen Propheten in the “Handkommentar z. A. T.” has been published. He recognises emphatically that the disputed passage about the Chaldeans, chap. i. 5–11, is out of place where it lies (this against Kuenen and the other authorities cited above, p. 117), and admits that it follows on, with a natural connection, to chap. ii. 4, to which Budde proposes to attach it. Nevertheless, for other reasons, which he does not state, he regards Budde’s proposal as untenable; and reckons the disputed passage to be by another hand than Habakkuk’s, and intruded into the latter’s argument. Habakkuk’s argument he assigns to after 605; perhaps 590. The tyrant complained against would therefore be the Chaldean.—Driver in the 6th ed. of his Introduction (1897) deems Budde’s argument “too ingenious,” and holds by the older and most numerously supported argument (above, pp. 116 ff.).—On a review of the case in the light of these two discussions, the present writer holds to his opinion that Budde’s rearrangement, which he has adopted, offers the fewest difficulties.

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