The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is from the book of the prophet Habakkuk as contained in the Book of the Twelve (The Twelve Minor Prophets). The text is Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4. It is the only text from Habakkuk used in the Three Year or the One Year Lectionary. Even so, this is a very significant text which provides much material for preaching.
The prophet Habakkuk himself is a bit of an enigma. We know nothing of him apart from his book and a strange reference to him in the apocryphal, “Bel and the Dragon.” The text seems to indicate he prophesied around 609-605 BC, making him a contemporary of Nahum and Zephaniah. Habakkuk provides a beautiful example of how we approach the LORD. He asks the foundational, fundamental question which all believers have asked down through the ages: Why? Why does the LORD allow evil to reign and persecute the faithful? Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? Important questions, but Habakkuk also gives us a blueprint to look at in our questioning in 2:1: “I will look to see what the LORD will say to me…” Wait on the LORD. Wait for His answer. Be confident He will answer. Trust and have faith! And, indeed, unlike Job, the LORD does provide answers to the prophet’s questions. Basically, the LORD will take care of business… the evil ones, the wicked will be punished, but in the LORD’s own time. In the meantime, “The righteous shall live by faith” (2:4). Truly, the theme for the entire book can be seen here, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
In our selected text we see a clear example of Hebrew Lament. The laments of the Hebrews called upon the LORD God to remember His people who are suffering, be faithful and deliver them. Note this important aspect: In their laments, the Hebrews never ask permission to deliver, rescue, revenge or punish—all this is left in the LORD’s hand. They call upon God to be faithful to His promises and deliver them. They leave it up to Him on the “how” and the “when.” It is, after all, His responsibility, His job description, and His place in the relationship. In our text we hear Habakkuk’s first lament/complaint (1:1-4) and the LORD’s answer to the prophet’s second complaint (2:1-4). Certainly this second answer easily applies to both laments. Also, note how in the lamenting we are provided with a beautiful dialogue between Habakkuk and the LORD.
This is a very attractive and preachable text in our context of being the Church in our day and in our society.
1:1 הַמַּשָּׂא (ham-mas-Sa) “oracle; revelation; pronouncement; burden; load”
חָזָה Qal: (cha-Zah) “to see” Specifically to see as a prophet, especially in a, “prophetic mode/state.”
1:2 עַד-אָנָה (ad A-nah) Literally, “Until when? Now, when?” Usually translated as “How long?” This is the cry of the prophets, “How long?” which assumes there will come an end to the troubles being suffered. God will be faithful and deliver them, but when? How long? It is a cry of faith.
שִׁוַּעְתִּי (shiv-Va-ti) root: שׁוע (shaw-vah) Piel: “to call for help; to cry out for help”
אֶזְעַק, (ez-Ak) root: זעק (zaw-ak) Qal: “to cry out; to cry; to call for help”
חָמָס (cha-Mas) “violence; wrong”
1:3 אָוֶן (a-ven) “wickedness; evil; trouble; iniquity”
וְעָמָל (ve-a-Mal) “trouble; mischief; wrong”
תַּבִּיט; (tab-Bit) root: נבט (naw-bat) Hiphil: “to look at; to behold”
וְשֹׁד> (ve-Shod) “death; violence; havoc”
רִיב (riv) “strife; contention; dispute”
וּמָדוֹן (u-ma-Don) “strife; contention; conflict; quarreling”
1:4 תָּפוּג (ta-Fug) root: פוג (poog) Qal: “to grow numb; to paralyze; to turn/become cold”
יֵצֵא (ye-Tze) Qal: “to go out; to result”
מַכְתִּיר; (mach-Tir) root: כתר (kaw-thar) Hiphil: “to surround; to surround someone” In this case, the wicked surround the righteous.
מְעֻקָּל (me-uk-Kal) root: עקל (aw-kal) Pual: “to be confused; to be crazy; to be perverted; to be bent out of shape; to be crooked”
2:1 מִשְׁמַרְתִּי (mish-mar-Ti) “a guard; a watch” “my watch post”
וְאֶתְיַצְּבָה (ve-et-yatz-tze-Vah) root: יצב (yaw-tsab) Hithpael: “to take one’s stand; to station oneself”
וַאֲצַפֶּה: (va-a-tzap-Peh) root: צפה (tsaw-faw) Piel: “to be on the lookout for; to look forth; to look out; to look”
תּוֹכַחְתִּי (to-chach-Ti) “reproof; complaint; argument”
2:2 וַיַּעֲנֵנִי: (vai-ya-a-Ne-ni) root: ענן (aw-naw) Qal: “to answer”
חָזוֹן (cha-Zon) “vision; word of revelation”
וּבָאֵר (u-va-Er) root: באר (baw-ar) Piel: “to make distinct; to write clearly; to record plainly”
הַלֻּחוֹת; (hal-lu-Chot) from: לוח (loo-akh) “tablet”
2:3 וְיָפֵחַ (ve-ya-Fe-ach) root: פוח (poo’akh) Hiphil: the meaning is difficult to ascertain. However, in conjunction with surrounding words seems to have the idea of, “awaiting an appointed time to speak/breathe out.”
לַקֵּץ; (lak-Ketz) “end”
יְכַזֵּב (ye-chaz-Zev) root: כזב (kaw-zab) Piel: “to lie; to fail; to disappoint”
יִתְמַהְמָהּ (yit-mah-Mah) root: מהה (maw-hah) Hithpalpal: “to linger; to tarry; to delay; to wait”
חַכֵּה (chak-keh) Piel: “to wait; to long (for)”
יְאַחֵר> (ye-a-Cher) root: אחר (aw-khar) Piel: “to delay; to hesitate; to tarry”
2:4 עֻפְּלָה (up-pe-Lah) root: עפל (aw-fal) Pual: “to be puffed up; to be swollen; to become weak”
יָשְׁרָה (ya-she-Rah) Qal: “to be right; to be upright; to please”
בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ (be-e-mu-na-To) from: אמוּנה/ (em-oo-naw) “faithfulness; trustworthiness,” or, “the righteous shall live by his faith,” or, “the righteous shall live by his faithfulness.”
Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4.
Lectionary Podcast- Rev. Ryan Tietz of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4.