Why did Paul quote Habakkuk in Acts 13:41?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Paul quoted the Prophet Habakkuk to conclude his first recorded sermon in the Bible. Reading from Acts chapter 13, “[40] Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets; [41] Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.” Was Paul taking Habakkuk’s prophecy out of context, or was there a valid reason for him appealing to the Prophet here?

The Prophet Habakkuk had a ministry during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 B.C.). Habakkuk preached a few decades before the Babylonian armies besieged Jerusalem and burned God’s Temple. We read in chapter 1 of his little Book: “[5] Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. [6] For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs.”

JEHOVAH God gave Judah (the Southern Kingdom) ample time to repent, to change their mind and quit worshipping idols. She obstinately persisted in false religion. Now, the fifth course of judgment was impending. Using Gentiles, God would remove Israel from His Promised Land (Leviticus 26:27-39). The Jews would be “among the heathen” (Habakkuk 1:5). Note, Habakkuk spoke as though it had already happened. Israel would now be among the nations, set aside by God. Still, as Habakkuk said, they persisted in unbelief. They refused to believe God’s Word to them.

After extensively rehearsing Israel’s history from Abraham to Jesus Christ (Acts 13:14-39), Paul quoted Habakkuk. The Apostle warned unbelieving Israel in that synagogue he was visiting, that they were now among the Gentiles, set aside (paralleling Habakkuk’s message). As God’s spokesman to them, Paul told Israel that they were still in unbelief (paralleling Habakkuk’s message), and they needed to turn from such error and trust Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Unbelieving Israel harassed and contradicted Paul throughout the rest of his ministry (remainder of Acts onward), further validating Habakkuk’s prophecy in his own day. “…a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.” The Bible is an amazing Book!

Also see:
» Can you explain Paul’s “Acts” ministry?
» Did Paul quote verses out of context in 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1?
» “If God peradventure will give them repentance…?”