Near the time of the transition from the Assyrian to the Babylonian empires (late 7th century BC), the prophet Habakkuk engaged in a profound dialogue with Israel’s God. The form of his book is a short series of complaints, or laments, followed by the divine responses. When Habakkuk’s cries are answered, he closes with a hymn of confidence in God’s expected victory.
The prophet begins by asking how long God will allow evil to triumph. The divine reply is that God is raising up the Babylonians as his tool of correction. This leads to Habakkuk’s second question: Why do you allow the wicked to swallow up those more righteous than themselves? God replies again, explaining that the Babylonians will be judged just like the Assyrians, and that the righteous must await this in faith and patience. The inevitability of Babylon’s doom is emphasized when God pronounces a series of five woes against it.
When Habakkuk’s dialogue with God concludes, the book moves to what is called A prayer of Habakkuk. But its musical notations reveal that it is clearly meant to be sung. Habakkuk celebrates God’s dramatic intervention for Israel in the past and prays that God will do it again. The prophet resolves in the meantime to wait patiently for God’s coming.