Four Theological Motifs in Habakkuk
The book of Habakkuk has several theological motifs that are important to understand. A motif is a concrete image, sensory quality, action, or object that purposefully recurs in a particular narrative. However, many scholars simply define a motif as a repeating “plot-element,” and so it can be either a concrete object—like “water” in the life of Moses, such as parting of the Red Sea or striking the rock and water comes out—or an abstraction like the “abandoned-hero motif,” also observed in Moses’ early life in Exodus 2 where he flees Egypt after killing the Egyptian task master without successfully freeing the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
Motifs underscore central points and ideas of a textual unit. Tracking the development of biblical motifs can uncover nuances of biblical thought and help shed light on biblical figures. A motif makes its point subtly but no less poignantly than an outright statement of declarative narration.
Four theological motifs can be found in the book of Habakkuk. In these three chapters, one can find teachings about God, humanity, prayer, and salvation.
Habakkuk: Theological Motif 1 – God
The reader discovers God as a revealer of truth, that He is sovereign over human history, and that God’s splendor and glory is made known throughout the earth. As God reveals himself, the reader learns that God is faithful in all circumstances and therefore, even in the midst of terrible pain and suffering, one can have hope. Because God is the God of creation who governs the world and its people, the prophet voices his complaints concerning the injustice and violence that has turned his world upside down.
Thomas writes in Habakkuk: Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary [THOTC], “Interestingly, this presentation of God in the book is achieved largely through the prophet’s complaints. God’s nature as a life-giving and death-defeating Lord is assumed, not explained, and becomes the ground of Habakkuk’s hope. Because of this, Habakkuk presents knowledge of God as creator and covenant Lord through the interchange between the prophet and God.”
Habakkuk: Theological Motif 2 – Humanity
The reader learns that human reasoning will never understand God’s ways. God tells the prophet Isaiah, “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (HSCB). In Habakkuk 1:5, God tells the prophet to look because he will be shocked and amazed at what God plans to do in Habakkuk’s lifetime – so amazed that he will not believe it even though God is forewarning him about His plans.
When God’s people have questions about their circumstances, they can approach Him, just as Habakkuk did, and ask for His revelation. Habakkuk is not the only person in the Bible that dares to question God. Moses, Jeremiah, and Job also wanted to know what God was doing. Like Job, Habakkuk had intense emotions as he screamed at God’s silence and dared to shout accusations at God as he tried to make sense of the injustice going on around him and how such injustice could occur under the sovereign rule of a just God.
While some might argue that Habakkuk’s questions demonstrate insolence before God, the reader will see a prophet who is searching for answers from the One who has them. Such prayers have the means to increase one’s faith when one is willing to bring all their emotions, doubts, and questions to God. Crying out to God in unfair circumstances does not demonstrate a lack of trust or faith in God. Rather it shows confidence that God does have the answers to our difficult problems.
Habakkuk: Theological Motif 3 – Prayer
Habakkuk helps his readers understand the importance of prayer. Just as Job turned to prayer in the midst of his suffering, so does the prophet Habakkuk. Thomas writes in Habakkuk: Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary [THOTC], “The dialogic call and response format of Habakkuk underscores a theology of prayer at work in the book.” Habakkuk teaches that when one faces pain and suffering in life, prayer is both the first and best response for the people of God.
Habakkuk: Theological Motif 4 – Salvation
Lastly, we find the theological doctrine of justification by faith. The Apostle Paul quoted Habakkuk 2:4 twice (see Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11) to show that this doctrine existed within the Old Testament. Habakkuk teaches his readers that when one gives themselves over wholly and fully to God, it is never an empty quest because God is faithful to give life to those to surrender to Him.
Thomas writes in Faith Amid the Ruins: The Book of Habakkuk, “Habakkuk teaches what it means to live faithfully before God, even through tragic or confusing times. This book teaches that living faithfully before God is possible only because of the faithfulness of God.”
The people of God are capable of moving from trials to triumph and God will be faithful to defend His people when “the righteous will live by his faithfulness” (Habakkuk 2:4, HCSB). The Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook states, “Steadfast, persevering trust in God for deliverance has always been the hallmark of God’s people. The final verses of the book, a hymn of faith in the God who saves, includes the remarkable confession, ‘yet I will triumph in Yahweh; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!’ (3:18).”
Regardless of our circumstances, we too can make the same confession. It is in God that we will ultimately triumph. Therefore we can rejoice in the God fo our salvation in all circumstances.
 Thomas, Habakkuk, 38
 Ibid., 38-39
 Thomas, Faith Amid the Ruins, 9
 Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook, 278
One Year Bible Reading Plan: March 18
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Praying, Meditating, and Journaling the Psalms:
Choose one of the following Psalms: Psalm 18, 49, 79, 109, or 139.
1: Read the psalm through in its entirety.
2: Take one verse at a time and pray the verse back to God as it applies to your life.
3: Meditate on the verse and ask the Holy Spirit what He is trying to teach you about God, your Christian walk, or about yourself.
4: Journal what you prayed about and the results of your meditation.
5: Move to the next verse. Continue through the entire psalm this way.
6: Write down one verse that stood out the most to you today on a 3X5 card and carry it with you throughout the day. Memorize the verse and hide it in your heart.
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Week 11: March 13-19
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