Habakkuk – Chapter 1

Yeah, But Who Wants Sandy Captives?

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Like Nahum, the text doesn’t tell us much about Habakkuk (Chavakuk in Hebrew – the double K in the translation is because of the dagesh in the letter kuf; it’s a grammar thing.) The Seder Olam places him, along with Joel and Nahum, during the reign of King Menashe in Judah, whose name is omitted because of his evil. The tradition is that Habakkuk is the son of the Shunammite woman, revived by the prophet Elisha in II Kings 4. When he predicted the child’s birth, Elisha said, At this time next year, you will embrace a son.” The word “embrace” (chovekes) is related to the name Chavakuk.

Habakkuk cries out to G-d, “How long must we put up with violence before You save us?” (Rashi says this refers to the then-future Babylonian invasion.) Why must Habakkuk be forced to see evil through his prophetic visions, but the ones who perpetrate that evil are not punished? When the Jews see the evil prosper, it discourages them from observing the Torah. The evil ones are influencing the righteous ones.

Look at the other nations and be amazed because G-d is performing a deed that they will see, but not believe. (The Radak says it refers to the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar, who was a contemporary of Habakkuk.) G-d is organizing the Kasdim (Chaldeans) against Israel. They will overrun the world with their horses, which are faster than leopards and their soldiers, who are more vicious than wolves. Their horsemen will fly like eagles to consume. They will eagerly plunder the land and scoop up captives like sand. The Jewish kings and officers will be a source of derision for the Chaldeans; they will laugh at Israel’s so-called “defenses,” easily capturing them with their siege engines.

When they see they are successful, the Chaldeans will attribute it to their idols. Habakkuk asks G-d why He should put up with that. Unlike their idols, G-d will never die. (The text euphemistically says that WE will not die.) G-d may have set this siege against Israel as a punishment, but why should He watch the Jews be punished by invaders who are even worse?

G-d has made people like fish and Nebuchadnezzar like a fisherman, scooping them up at will. Nebuchadnezzar is pleased with his catch and he thanks his idols, not that they have anything to do with it. G-d shouldn’t have to put up with that.

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