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Habakkuk Introduction-Date and Historical Background

Habakkuk Introduction  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  1:10:01
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Introduction-Date and Authorship

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The majority of scholars date the book of Habakkuk toward the end of the seventh century B.C. because of the reference to the Babylonians in Habakkuk 1:6.
However, there is no consensus at arriving at a precise date.
Some propose that Habakkuk was written somewhere between 697-642 B.C. during the reign of Manasseh.
Others propose that it was written somewhere between 640-609 B.C. during the reign of Josiah.
Another group propose that Habakkuk was written between 609-598 B.C. during the reign of Jehoiakim.
Those scholars who date the book during the reign of Manasseh assert that the statement in Habakkuk 1:6 indicates a period before Babylon ascended to superpower status.
Thus, they contend that the date would have to be before the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar defeated Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt.
Babylon then became a world power most likely before 612 B.C. when Babylon overthrew Nineveh.
The problem with this view is that if the fulfillment of Habakkuk’s prophecy (Hab. 1:6) is the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 B.C., then the book could not have been written early in the reign of Manasseh.
The prophecy is said to be fulfilled “in your days” or “your lifetime” (NET) in Habakkuk 1:5 and those who heard the prophecy in the early years of Manasseh’s reign would probably have died before its fulfillment.
The problem with dating Habakkuk during the reign of Josiah is that this king led the nation of Judah during a period of repentance, revival and reforms while Habakkuk 1:2-4 describes the exact opposite.
I am of the conviction that Habakkuk was written in 605 B.C. during the reign of Jehoiakim since Habakkuk 1:6 records the God of Israel informing the prophet Habakkuk that He was about to empower the Babylonians to be His instrument to judge the unfaithful in the kingdom of Judah.
Thus, the text says that this attack had not yet taken place and was imminent.
Also, the contents of Habakkuk 1:7-11 indicate that the Babylonians already possessed a fierce reputation which was feared in Habakkuk’s culture.
We know from secular history and biblical history that the Babylonians launched three attacks of the kingdom of Judah, namely, in 605, 597 and 586 B.C.
Consequently, the book of Habakkuk must have been written just prior to the first of three Babylonian invasions led by Nebuchadnezzar which took place in 605 B.C.
Therefore, as we noted in our study of the date of the book, Habakkuk was written just prior to the first Babylonian invasion of the southern kingdom of Judah in 605 B.C.
Babylon asserted her independence in 627 B.C.
Simultaneously, Assyria was being threatened from north by the Scythians who inhabited the regions to the north and east of the Black Sea.
They were a nomadic and barbaric people.
They wandered over the vast area between the Caspian and Black seas.
Approximately 626 B.C. they marched south through Palestine in the direction of Egypt.
The prophets Zephaniah and Jeremiah prophesied that this was the result of God’s judgment.
The Scythians followed the coastal route to Egypt.
However, they were repulsed to Ashdod by the Egyptians.
Babylon and Media joined forces in 612 B.C. to sack the Assyrian capital, Nineveh.
Ashur-uballit led some Assyrians to flee eastward to Haran and it was at this location that they declared authority over all Assyria.
The King of Babylon at the time, Nabopolassar moved in 611 B.C. against these Assyrian forces in Haran and 610 B.C., he allied with Media and attacked Haran.
This led to the withdrawal of Assyrian forces in that city where they settled westward beyond the Euphrates River and thus left Haran to the Babylonians.
The Assyrians sought help from Egypt in 609 B.C.
Pharaoh Neco II led his army to join Assyria.
In Palestine, the king of Judah, Josiah attempted to attract the favor of the Babylonians by preventing the Egyptians from joining Assyria and engage the Egyptian army at Megiddo where he was defeated and killed (2 Kings 23:28-30; 2 Chronicles 35:24).
Thus, Pharaoh Neco joined forces with the Assyrians and together they assaulted Babylon at Haran but were repelled.
Assyria no longer was a major player in the ancient world from this point on but Egypt continued to engage Babylon in battle after this conflict in Haran.
All resistance was crushed with the conquest of Haran, which was occupied by the remnant of the Assyrian military in 610 B.C.
That the might of Assyria was at an end was a fulfillment of the prophecies of the Israelite prophets Zephaniah (2:13ff.) and Nahum (3:1ff.).
The Tigris river served as a boundary marker for dividing up the empire with the Babylonians taking the territory to the west and south and the Medes taking the land to the north and east.
Nebuchadnezzar II married the daughter of the Medan king which served to unite the two nations into the New Babylonian empire (612-539 B.C.) and after the downfall of Assyria Neco marched into Palestine.
He did this to assist the Assyrian forces according to the Babylonian Chronicle published in 1923 by Gadd.
Josiah did not want Neco to aid the enemies of Judah and thus sought to stop him at Megiddo.
However he was killed in battle there in 609 B.C. Jehoahaz II, the son of Josiah was installed as king but after three months he was ousted by Neco in favor of his elder brother Jehoiakim.
Neco made him a tributary and demanded him to pay one hundred talents of silver and of gold (2 Kings 23:33).
As these events were transpiring the prophet Jeremiah was asserting his influence in the political arena.
He was born into an old priestly family at Anathoth in about 640 B.C. and his mission began with the death of Ashurbanipal.
From outset of his ministry he condemned idolatry of the leaders of Israel and the priesthood.
He rebuked the Temple priests (Jeremiah 26:8ff.), false prophets (Jeremiah 23:9ff.) and government officials (Jeremiah 36:12ff.).
Consequently, his ministry was rejected and was marked by constant opposition and persecution.
Jeremiah prophesied that Judah would be overtaken by Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 25:9ff.).
He attempted to influence the political policies of his country so that Judah would become a vassal of Babylon and thus escape destruction (Jeremiah 27:6ff.).
In 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar attacked Egypt in the Battle of Carchemish which resulted in the defeat of Egypt.
Carchemish was destroyed by the Babylonians in approximately June of that year.
The Babylonian king pursued the Egyptians and thus expanded his area of authority.
He went into Syria and toward Palestine.
Upon learning of the death of his father Nabopolassar, Nebuchadnezzar returned from Riblah to Babylon in August 605 B.C. where he was crowned king.
After this he returned to Palestine and attacked Jerusalem in September 605 B.C.
This conquest of Jerusalem resulted in Daniel and his companions being taken back to Babylon as captives (Dan. 1).
As we noted, the book of Habakkuk was written in 605 B.C. during the reign of Jehoiakim since Habakkuk 1:6 records the God of Israel informing the prophet Habakkuk that He was about to empower the Babylonians to be His instrument to judge the unfaithful in the kingdom of Judah.
Thus, the text says that this attack had not yet taken place and was imminent.
Consequently, the book of Habakkuk was must have been written just prior to the first of three Babylonian invasions led by Nebuchadnezzar which took place in 605 B.C.
Therefore, the book of Habakkuk was written during a period in which Babylon had just defeated Egypt at the battle of Carchemish.
With this great victory, Babylon became the number one super power of the Mediterranean and Mesopotamian regions of the world.
They struck fear in the hearts of every nation in these regions including the kingdom of Judah.
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