How to Read Habakkuk

The Book of Habakkuk

Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application.  

Habakkuk, a collection of lament poems, asks the question, “Is God good when there is so much evil in the world?” This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of Habakkuk, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video. 

Now that you have an overview of Habakkuk in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Habakkuk. Read about Habakkuk’s choice to rejoice in the Lord, even when the world is dark and chaotic, in Habakkuk 3:17–19. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Habakkuk 3:17–19. 

Habakkuk 3:17-19 (ESV)

Habakkuk Rejoices in the Lord

17Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

19God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places.

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Even when everything goes wrong, Habakkuk will still rejoice in the Lord, his strength.

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Habakkuk 3:17–19? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Even when everything goes wrong, Habakkuk will still rejoice in the Lord, his strength. (Interpretation) The world is broken and things have not yet been completely set right. Even in the chaos and darkness, Habakkuk chooses to believe that God is working out His good plan for the restoration of all things. That hope provides strength. 

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Habakkuk 3:17–19? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Habakkuk? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: Sin causes tragedy, darkness, chaos, and terror. God cleanses the world from evil with the flood. Cain murders Abel. Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers. Famine grips the land. The Israelites are enslaved in Egypt. Wars break out. Israel is sent into exile, violently oppressed by evil nations. King Herod attempts to kill Jesus. Jesus is killed on a cross. Through all these dark and tragic experiences, God is still at work behind the scenes, working His good plan for restoration and healing.

Contextualize: What themes does Habakkuk 3:17–19 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the story of Habakkuk? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the earlier books of the Bible?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Because mankind is fallen with sin, evil reigns on the earth. Tragedy, darkness, chaos, and terror continually characterize the human experience on earth, and that darkness regularly touches my life. Even when all hope seems to be lost, when grief and sorrow and fear seem to hold a death-grip on me, even then, I can ask for help to trust in the character and promises of God. I can rest and have hope in the fact that God is continually working His plan to bring healing, peace, and full restoration. I can trust that He is good and faithful. 

Apply: How does the truth from Habakkuk 3:17–19 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Habakkuk to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps us wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video. 

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Habakkuk, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Habakkuk this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 

To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.