Habakkuk is an intensely personal prophet who reverses the traditional role of prophecy. Rather than speaking God's word to the people, he dialogues with God on their behalf. The first two chapters are comprised of Habakkuk's complaints of human and divine injustice, followed by God's response (a literary relationship known as “interrogation”).
In his first complaint (1:2-4), Habakkuk describes the lawless and corrupt Judahite society. Initially Habakkuk's concerns were internal. There is no mention of foreign invaders, only of social injustice and violence among God's people. Yahweh's reaction was anything but reassuring for Habakkuk (vv. 5-11). He assures his prophet that he is at work to arouse a swift and bitter nation to come and bring “justice” on Judah. Babylonia's armies (v. 9) will be used by God to chastize and discipline his children.
Habakkuk objects that justice achieved in this manner is no justice at all (1:12-2:1). How can God use a corrupt and self-serving nation (especially the Babylonians!) to reprove his nation Judah? The prophet complains that God is “too pure to look on evil” and that he must not allow the wicked to “swallow up those more righteous than themselves” (1:13). Yahweh's response assures Habakkuk that the Babylonians will certainly receive appropriate punishment for their crimes (2:2-20).
Meanwhile, the righteous individual is encouraged to live by his faith (or “faithfulness”; see below). The taunting woe oracles of 2:6-20 graphically describe the destruction of the Babylonians and confirm that divine justice will ultimately reach all nations, though God's people must learn to await its consummation faithfully.
Even Habakkuk's psalm in ch. 3 may be seen as a dialogue between prophet and God. In light of all that Habakkuk has learned about God and justice and faith, he becomes impatient and longs more than anything else to see God's work in history. He appeals to Yahweh to “renew” his saving acts of history in Habakkuk's own day (v. 2). The theophany in vv. 3-15 describes Yahweh's awe-inspiring appearance at Sinai and the Exodus, and it results in the prophet's contentment to endure any hardship as long as he can rejoice in the Lord (vv. 16-19).
Although an earlier generation of scholars questioned Habakkuk's authorship of ch. 3, a consensus has developed among more recent commentators that the book is a unity and that the same individual composed all three chapters (contra Hiebert, 81-82, 129-36).