Background of Habakkuk and 1:1-4

Introduction to the Book

Title: Habakkuk may be a name derived from meaning “to embrace” but this is uncertain. Nothing is known about the author; what can be known must be gleaned from the book.

Historical References and Date: 2 Kings 23:1-24:7 and 2 Chronicles 36:1-9

  • “It is generally accepted that the reference to the Babylonians (Hab. 1:6) places the book within the seventh century B.C. More precise dating of the prophecy has provoked controversy. The dates proposed fall into three time periods: the reign of Manasseh (697–642), the reign of Josiah (640–609), and the reign of Jehoiakim (609–598) . . . .  Habakkuk wrote in a time of international crisis and national corruption.” (Blue, J. R. (1985). Habakkuk, In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 1506). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.) [Hereafter as BKC])
  • “All conjecture and speculation aside it is safe, and perhaps sufficient, to say that Habakkuk was an officially ordained prophet who took part in temple liturgical singing. He was well educated, deeply sensitive, and in his literary style was as much a poet as he was a prophet. [Italics mine] Above all, he was God’s choice servant who penned one of the most penetrating books of the Old Testament.” (BKC, loc. cit.)

ThemeFaith in God and His character is the key to living in times of violence and perverted justice.

The Syntax and Poetry Development

This series of blogs on the Book of Habakkuk begins with the grammatical and syntactical data essential for developing a full-blown commentary. But since the book represents Hebrew poetry, following the grammatical and syntactical data are the poetics. For a complete understanding of each section both are necessary. Also, I have sought to be consistent as much as possible with the grammatical and syntactical terminology with frequent use of Waltke, B. K., & O’Connor, M. P. (1990). An introduction to biblical Hebrew syntax. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. [Hereafter as Waltke & O’Connor, Syntax]; Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (1996). Commentary on the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson. [Hereafter as K&D, loc. cit.] and many others. The initial source references are cited fully but subsequent references are abbreviated throughout this series. For convenience the NASB is employed in all of the translations used in the poetics. Finally, please keep in mind that this is a work in progress and occasionally I will make changes.

I.      Why Is Yahweh Unresponsive to My Prayers? 1:1-11
        A. Habakkuk’s Questions, 1:1-4

Article, Demonstrative + Noun MNS Absolute, Predicate of Noun Clause, This [is] the burden.  Heb ‘The burden’ (so KJV, ASV). The Hebrew term מַשָּׂא (masa’), usually translated ‘oracle’ (NAB, NEB, NASB, NIV, NRSV) or ‘utterance’ (BDB 672 s.v. III מַשָּׂא), in prophetic literature is a technical term introducing a message from the Lord (see Zech 9:1; 12:1; Mal 1:1). Since it derives from a verb meaning ‘to carry,’ its original nuance was that of a burdensome message, that is, one with ominous content.” (Biblical Studies Press. (2005). The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English, NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press)  [Hereafter as NET, loc. cit.]
Relative, Apposition to הַמַּשָּׂא, that.
QPf 3MS, Simple Pf, he saw.
Noun, Proper Name, Habakkuk.
Article, Particularizing + Noun MNS Absolute, N Apposition, the Prophet.


Preposition + Interrogative Pronoun, how long. Doing double duty in the clauses.
Noun MVS Absolute, Vocative Direct Address, O Yahweh.
PiPf 1CS, Perfective Pf, have I been crying out.
Paratactic Conjunction, Copulative + Negative Adverb, and . . .not. In this series I use paratactic and hypotactic conjunctions to distinguish between independent and dependent clauses. I have also adopted the two-fold description of the functions of the waw as copulative and relative, the latter representing some aspect of succession in the development.
QI 2MS, Progressive I, you have . . . been listening? Disjunctive accent. In this series I refer to the accent system found in the primary text (Biblia Hebraica Westmonasteriensis with Westminster Hebrew Morphology 4.18. (2013). J. Alan Groves Center for Advanced Biblical Research). The accents are important for both the syntax and the poetics.
QI 1CS, Progressive I, I keep crying out. עַד־אָ֧נָה is implied.
Preposition, Datival Indirect Object + Personal Pronoun MGS, Antecedent = יְהוָ֛ה, to you. 
Noun MAS Absolute, A Direct Object as an exclamation, violence! 
Paratactic Conjunction, Copulative + Negative Adverb, and . . . not.
HiI 2MS, Iterative I, you do . . . save?                                    


Interrogative Pronoun, why [do]? 
HiI 2MS, Progressive I + Personal Pronoun MAS, A Direct Object, Antecedent = Habakkuk, you make me see. 
Noun MAS Absolute, A Direct Object, iniquity.
Paratactic Conjunction, Copulative + Noun MAS Absolute, A Direct Object, and trouble.
“The words ʾāwen and ʿāmāl are conventional parallels (Job 4:8; 5:6), sometimes coordinated (Pss 10:7; 55:11; 90:10). The word ʿāmāl describes the agony of body or mind that is humanity’s inevitable lot (Job 5:7), especially the troubled state of a person worn out by work and the cares of this life.”(Andersen, F. I. (2008). Habakkuk: a new translation with introduction and commentary (Vol. 25, p. 113). New Haven; London: Yale University Press) [Hereafter as Anderson, Habakkuk]
HiI 2MS, Progressive I, you cause me to look. Disjunctive accent. 
Paratactic Conjunction, Copulative + Noun MNS Absolute, Subject N in Noun Clause, and destruction. Forward emphasis.
Paratactic Conjunction, Copulative + Noun MS Absolute, Subject N in Noun Clause, and violence. Cp. verse 2. Forward emphasis.“Shōd is violent treatment causing desolation. Châmâs is malicious conduct intended to injure another. (K&D, loc. cit.) Habakkuk reordered the words to highlight violence that begins and ends the list of sins.
Compounded Preposition, Locale (metaphorical) + Personal Pronoun MGS, Antecedent = Habakkuk), [are] before me. Disjunctive accent.
Paratactic Conjunction, Relative + QI 3MS, Stative I, and . . . exists. 
Noun MNS Absolute, Subject N, dispute. The S may be a collective for “disputes.”
Paratactic Conjunction, Copulative + Noun MNS Absolute, Subject N, strife. The S may be a collective for “strifes.”
QI 3MS, Progressive I, continues to rise up. 


Preposition + Adverb of Manner, therefore. On this inferential use see KB, Lexicon, 826. Also, “The consequences of this are relaxation of the law, etc. עַל־כֵּן, therefore, because God does not interpose to stop the wicked conduct.” [K&D, loc. cit.] 
QI 3FS, Stative I, turns cold. “פּוּג, to relax, to stiffen, i.e., to lose one’s vital strength, or energy.” (K&D, loc. cit.) Also, “Heb ‘the law is numb,’ i.e., like a hand that has ‘fallen asleep’ (see Ps 77:2). Cf. NAB ‘is benumbed’; NIV ‘is paralyzed.’” (NET, loc. cit.)

Noun FNS Absolute, Subject N, the Law. Disjunctive accent.
Paratactic Conjunction, Result + Negative Adverb (See below) + QI 3MS, Progressive I, and, as a result, . . . does not come forth.
Preposition, Reference + Noun MGS Construct, not forever. “לָנֶ֖צַח belongs to לֹא, not for ever, i.e., never more.” (K&D, loc. cit.)
Noun MNS Absolute, Subject N, justice. Disjunctive accent.

“The greatest tragedy, however, was the people’s neglect of God’s Law. Habakkuk described the consequence: Therefore the Law is paralyzed (lit.,‘becomes cool, numbed’). The divine Law appeared to have suffered a knockout; also civic justice, Habakkuk said, never prevails, or never came forth to fight (cf. ‘injustice,’ v. 3). It appears that wickedness was the uncontested victor.” (BKC, loc. cit.)

Hypotactic Conjunction, Causal, because.
Substantival Adjective MNS Absolute, Collective S, Subject N in a Noun Clause, the wicked men. 

“For godless men (רָשָׁע, without an article, is used with indefinite generality or in a collective sense) encircle the righteous man, so that the righteous cannot cause right to prevail. Therefore right comes forth perverted.” (K&D, loc. cit.)

HiPtc MNS, Adjectival Ptc, Predicate N, [are] those who surround. היה implied. “The use of the participle as predicate is very frequent in noun-clauses.” (Gesenius, F. W. (1910). Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar. (E. Kautzsch & S. A. E. Cowley, Eds.) (2d English ed., p. 359). Oxford: Clarendon Press) [Hereafter as GKC, Grammar]
Particle of Direct Object + Article, Particularizing + Substantival Adjective MAS Absolute, Collective S, the righteous man. Disjunctive accent.
Preposition + Adverb of Manner, therefore. 
QI 3MS, Progressive I, comes forth.
Noun MNS Absolute, Subject N, justice.
PuPtc MAS, Adverbial Ptc of Manner, twisted.

  • Approximately 50% of the Hebrew OT involves poetry. It is incumbent on the interpreter to both understand and insert the results in one’s interpretation of the OT.
  • Hebrew poetry is divided into lines of varying numbers and lengths. These divisions are generally based on the Hebrew accents marked in the Hebrew text. Though these accents are not “inspired” they are important interpretation concerns involving punctuation of the text that need to be considered.
  • The most pervasive element in the poetry is parallelism wherein, for example, one poetic line is paralleled in another line that in some way adds to or makes sense of the first line. The fonts made bold, italicized, underlined, etc., exist to identify various poetic elements.
  • Another common poetic device is called chiasmus, basically an ABBA pattern where the A’s are logically connected as are the B’s. Other patterns involving parallelism also exist such as ABA or ABAB (where the B’s sequentially parallel the A’s). The bullets will highlight more aspects of Hebrew poetry.

Verse 2
(A) How long, O Lord, will I call for help,
(B) And You will not hear?
(A) [How long,I cry out to You, “Violence!”
(B) Yet You do not save.

  • ABAB pattern.
  • “[How long]” – Double Duty (ellipsis is common).
  • Grammatical Parallelism.
  • General to Specific Parallelism in bold font.

Verse 3
Why do You (A) make me see (B) iniquity,
And (A) cause me to look on (B) wickedness?
Yes, destruction and violence are before me;
(B) Strife (A) exists and, (B) contention (A) arises.

  • Chiasmus – ABBA pattern clear in the Hebrew text.
  • Dirge (funeral meter) in line 1.
  • Verse 3 fleshes out verse 2 and they should be connected.

Verse 4
(A) Therefore the law is ignored
(B) And justice is never upheld.
(B) For the wicked surround the righteous;
(A) Therefore justice comes out perverted.

  • Chiastic: lines 1 and 4 are logically connected as are lines 2 and 3.
  • Verse 4 fleshes out verse 3 with a conclusion.
  • Therefore highlights the connectedness and is repeated for emphasis.

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