Habakkuk lived in a time of corruption in his society. He complained of oppressive violence, unequal treatment before the law, falsehood parading as truth, open robbery, perversion in the courts and strife between the political factions. Law was not upheld in the courts. Thieves and murderers were honoured publicly while the innocent were trampled underfoot.
It’s believed that Habakkuk wrote his vision sometime between the years 620 and 604 B.C. The book of Habakkuk and his vision is part of the Old Testament, found right after the book of Nahum and before Zephaniah.
As is often the case with many of the Biblical prophets, nothing is known of his personal history.
Many times prophets would suddenly appear on the political scene, coming out nowhere (the desert), denouncing the wickedness of the rulers and calling for a return to justice and mercy, then retreat back into the desert from where they had come.
As the prophet Amos declared,
I was no prophet,
Nor was I a son of a prophet,
But I was a sheep breeder
And a tender of sycamore fruit.
Then the LORD took me as I followed the flock,
And the LORD said to me,
‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel’
Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah, who warned the rulers of Judah of the coming foreign invasion and Babylonian captivity. However, unlike Jeremiah, who confronted the leaders of the nation, Habakkuk talked with God. He engaged in a conversation with God about the corruption, violence, strife and lawlessness which he saw in his society. The book of Habakkuk is the record of this dialogue between the prophet and God. For this reason, Habakkuk has been called “the philosopher of the Bible”.
He questioned God, then waited for the reply, then questioned God some more. In the course of the conversation Habakkuk revealed his strong faith. For that reason he has been called “the prophet of faith.” It was Habakkuk’s statement “the just shall live by faith” that inspired Martin Luther’s Reformation in the 1500s.
Due to the seriousness of his prophecy, it is called “the burden” or “the oracle which Habakkuk the prophet did see”. Burdens or oracles are usually dark prophesies of coming doom. In the case of Habakkuk’s vision it is a prophecy of both coming doom and later deliverance.
For prophets, speaking the words of God was a serious matter. The prescribed penalty for creating a false prophecy was death by stoning. Habakkuk’s credentials as a true prophet have never been questioned.