Unlike most of the prophets, Habakkuk gives no specific statement to indicate the era during which he prophesied.
Nevertheless, the contents of the book make it clear that he delivered his message during that period of the Judean kingdom, when Babylon had risen to power and was threatening to conquer Judah.
Background to the book
With its conquest of Assyria in 612 BC, Babylon had become the chief power in the region. It emphasized this by defeating Egypt in the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC (2 Kings 24:7; Jer 46:2). This victory gave it control over Judah, but it did not destroy Jerusalem until 587 BC, after it had lost patience because of Judah’s repeated rebellions. Babylon’s conquest of Judah was part of God’s will for his unfaithful and rebellious people. This raised a problem for Habakkuk, and his book shows how God dealt with his problem and answered his objections.
Summary of the book
Habakkuk begins by complaining to God that in spite of his preaching, Judah shows no signs of improving. He asks how long God will allow Judah to go unpunished (1:1-4). God replies that he is preparing the Babylonians (Chaldeans) to punish Judah (1:5-11). Habakkuk objects to this strongly. He asks: if God is holy, and if Judah is his people, how can he use Babylon to punish Judah when the Babylonians are worse sinners than the Judeans (1:12-17)? He awaits God’s answer (2:1). In due course God replies. His answer is that wickedness, whether of the Babylonians or the Judeans, will always bring defeat in the end, but the person who remains morally upright has nothing to fear.
In the end God will give such a person victory (2:2-5). The prophet has had his question answered, but he goes on to announce God’s judgment on evil, particularly the evil of the Babylonians (2:6-20). The book concludes with a psalm that pictures, by a series of dramatic illustrations, the work of God in judgment upon evil (3:1-15). Its relevance to Habakkuk’s question is seen in the final words, where Habakkuk learns to trust in the wisdom and justice of God. Habakkuk knows that the people of Judah deserve God’s punishment. As for the Babylonians, the ones whom God uses to carry out that punishment, Habakkuk will leave God to deal with them according to his wisdom and justice (3:16-19).