Habakkuk Introduction-Text, Literary Genre and Style

Habakkuk Introduction  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  1:01:25
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Introduction-Text, Literary Genre and Style

The textual integrity of the book of Habakkuk has been verified by a variety of witnesses from a very early date.
Thus, it has not been the subject of much controversy regarding its text.
However, some scholars reject 1:7b and 13 as later interpolations and some also accept minor revisions in 1:9 and 12 based upon ancient versions.
The text of the LXX contains an addition in Haggai 2:9, which does not appear in the MT.
Several passages in Habakkuk appear in the Dead Sea scrolls which contains almost the entire book (VanderKam and Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 419, 432).
In approximately the third century B.C. or maybe later in the intertestamental period, the book of Habakkuk appears in the Septuagint.
It appears in its entirety in all complete LXX manuscripts (Baker, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah, 45).
Habakkuk is found in the Latin Vulgate, the Syriac version and the Targum Jonathan on the Prophets.
Let’s now take a look at the literary genre and style of the book of Habakkuk.
Zuck writes “Literary genre refers to the category or the kind of writing characterized by a particular form(s) and/or content. Distinguishing the various genres (kinds of literature) in Scripture helps us interpret the Bible more accurately. ‘We do this with all kinds of literature. We distinguish between lyric poetry and legal briefs, between newspaper accounts of current events and epic poems. We distinguish between the style of historical narratives and sermons.’[1]”[2]
In the Bible, we have what we call the “legal” genre which appears in the Pentateuch and refers to the body of material that includes commandments for the Israelites (cf. Exodus 20–40, Leviticus; Numbers 5–6, 15, 18–19, 28–30, 34–35), and nearly all of Deuteronomy.
There are two types of legal material: (1) Apodictic law which are direct commands (cf. Exodus 20:3–17; Leviticus 18:7–24; 19:9–19, 26–29, 31, 35).
The second type of legal material is casuistic law which means case-by-case law.
In these commands a condition setting forth a specific situation introduces the laws (cf. Leviticus 20:9–18, 20–21; Deuteronomy 15:7–17).
Another genre that appears in the Bible quite frequently, is narrative which is a story told for the purpose of conveying a message through people and their problems and situations.
Biblical narratives are selective and illustrative.
The biblical narratives are not intended to be full biographies giving every detail of individuals’ lives.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the biblical writers carefully selected the material they included to accomplish certain purposes.
Biblical narratives usually follow a pattern in which a problem occurs near the beginning of the narrative, with increasing complications that reach a climax.
Then it moves toward a solution to the problem and concludes with the problem solved.
As the problem develops, suspense usually intensifies and issues and relationships become more complicated until they reach a dramatic climax.
There are different types of narratives: (1) Tragedy: A story of the decline of a person from verity to catastrophe such as Samson, Saul, and Solomon. (2) Epic: A series of episodes unified around an individual or a group of people. An example of this is Israel’s wilderness wanderings. (3) Romance: A narrative in which the romantic relationship between a man and a woman is narrated. The Books of Ruth and the Song of Songs are illustrations of this kind of narrative. (4) Heroic: A story built around the life and exploits of a hero or a protagonist, an individual who sometimes is a representative of others or an example for others. Examples are Abraham, Gideon, David, Daniel, and Paul. (5) Satire: An exposure of human vice or folly through ridicule or rebuke. The Book of Jonah is a satire because Jonah, as a representative of Israel, is ridiculed for his refusal to accept God’s universal love. (6) Polemic: An aggressive attack against or refuting of the views of others. Examples of this are Elijah’s “contest” with the 450 Baal prophets (1 Kings 18:16–46), and the 10 plagues against the gods and goddesses of Egypt.
Another genre that appears in the Scriptures is poetry.
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs are the five major poetical books.
But we must keep in mind that poetry is included in many of the prophetic books such as in Zephaniah.
Wisdom literature is another genre in the Bible. Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes contain this genre.
This type of literature is poetry.
However, not all poetic material is Wisdom literature.
The Gospels are another genre.
Some approach the gospel as simply as historical narratives, as if the books were written simply to record biographical information on the life of Christ.
However, they are not biographies in the normal sense in that they exclude much material from the life of Christ which one would normally expect to find in a historical biography.
The Gospels include quite a bit of biographical material on Christ, but they are more than biographies since they contain both doctrine and narrative, which set forth information on the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ teachings in parables and in direct discourse are interspersed with the records of His miracles and encounters with individuals.
Another genre that appears in the Bible is logical discourse which is also called epistolary literature and refers to the epistles of the New Testament, Romans through Jude are examples of this genre in the New Testament.
They contain two kinds of material: (1) expository discourse: expounding certain truths or doctrines, often with logical support for those truths (2) hortatory discourse: exhortations to follow certain courses of action or to develop certain characteristics in light of the truths presented in the expository discourse material.
Lastly, prophetic literature constitutes another genre that appears in the Bible.
This genre includes predictions of the future at the time of the writing of the material with injunctions often included that those who hear the prophecy adjust their lives in light of the predictions.
There is also a special form of prophetic literature, namely, apocalyptic, which focuses specifically on the end times, while presenting the material in symbolic form.
Zuck writes “An awareness of the literary genre or kind of literature of a given Bible book helps more in synthesis than detailed analysis. It helps give a sense of the overall thrust of the Bible book, so that verses and paragraphs can be seen in light of the whole. This helps prevent the problem of taking verses out of context. It also gives insight into the nature and purpose of an entire book, as seen, for example, in the Book of Jonah. Structural patterns help us see why certain passages are included where they are. Also attention to literary genre keeps us from making more of the passage than we should or from making less of the passage than we should.[3]
The book of Habakkuk contains several different literary genres.
First, the book contains prophetic literature in that Habakkuk is a prophet who communicates God’s message to the citizens of Judah and Jerusalem.
Secondly, the book contains wisdom literature which addresses the deep questions of life, such as the question of theodicy, which is the attempt to understand the nature and actions of God in the face of evil and suffering.
Habakkuk is also a lamentation, which is a literary composition of grief and sorrow.
The book is also a complaint since the prophet complains to God about His failure to judge the unrepentant disobedient citizens of Judah.
He also complains about God’s choice of the Babylonians to judge his countrymen.
Lastly, Habakkuk is a psalm which closely resembles many of the Psalms.
We also must keep in mind that the book of Habakkuk is poetry.
[1] R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 49.
[2] Campbell, D. K. (1991). Foreword. In C. Bubeck Sr. (Ed.), Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (p. 126). Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.
[3] Campbell, D. K. (1991). Foreword. In C. Bubeck Sr. (Ed.), Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth (pp. 127–135). Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.
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