Chapter three of Habakkuk provides the Haftorah for the second day of Shavuot. The Book of Habakkuk is the eighth of the twelve Books of the "minor" prophets. This section is read on Shavuot as it describes Mattan Torah, the giving of the Torah:
G-d came from Teman; the Holy One from Mt. Paran, with everlasting might. His glory covered the heavens and His splendor filled the earth. And there was a brightness like the light; they had rays from His hand, and there was His strength hidden.
Habakkuk lived at the time of the "Exile of Jehoiachin," which took place eleven years before the destruction of the First Holy Temple in the year 3338. Habakkuk succeeded the prophet Nahum, and was a direct link in the Torah's "Chain of Tradition" (masorah), which goes right back to our leader Moshe. So the story of Habakkuk took place roughly about 2400 years ago.
Habakkuk lived in the Land of Israel where he owned some land. One evening when he and his fellow workers had finished their work in the fields and were eating their supper together, a spirit of prophecy suddenly descended upon Habakkuk. He saw an angel before him who told him that G-d desired that Habakkuk should bring a part of the meal he was eating to the Prophet Daniel, who was at that moment, in a lions' den in Babylon.
This is a mission that would not appeal very much to any of us! Imagine being asked to go down into a lions' den! But all that Habakkuk wondered about was how could he, who was at that moment in the Land of Israel, manage to take a meal to someone who was hundreds of miles away in Babylon?
Habakkuk did not have to wait long for an answer. The angel took him by the locks of his hair and flew off with him, landing him a few moments later right in the very midst of the lions' den.
There sat Daniel with the lions sprawling at his feet, like loyal watch dogs guarding a beloved master!
The two prophets settled down to their evening meal, happy in their chance of having a heart-to-heart chat. The lions did not disturb them despite their own hunger, but instead walked about the den circling Daniel and Habakkuk as they ate and talked and blessed the Almighty for his mercies and miracles.
Daniel told Habakkuk how he came to be in the lions' den:
"When King Darius of Media had appointed me as his personal counselor," began Daniel, "all his courtiers became inflamed with jealousy. It did not interest them that I had already acted as counselor to the previous Babylonian king, and that my appointment, therefore, was not a matter of favoritism but because of my suitability. All they could feel was resentment that I was chosen and not they. So they decided to get me into disfavor with the king, and eventually get rid of me.
"But try as they would, they could find no crime to charge me with, and so they conspired to convince the king to enact some new law which would `land me in their net.'
"King Darius had until then always shown the greatest respect to our Jewish faith, and this, too, annoyed his courtiers very much. The king, who himself told me all this later, said he had not suspected a thing when his courtiers came to him with an air of extreme loyalty and asked him to give his seal to an important new law. The new edict read: `Every citizen of the land should publicly acknowledge the king as the highest authority, and that only to him must every kind of request be made or prayer be said."
"I can see their plot against you now," said Habakkuk. "Yes, my friend," continued Daniel, "after the king had passed this law, his courtiers watched every move I made! Naturally I was not going to allow any man-made law to interfere with my prayers three times a day. These devilish courtiers pounced upon me one day and dragged me before the king, accusing me of praying to someone other than to the king.
They immediately demanded the maximum penalty for this offense -- that I be thrown alive into the lions' den. This harsh punishment would serve as an example to anyone who would dare to break the new law in the future.
"King Darius, who was really not a bad man but had been misled and drawn into this new law without giving it proper thought and consideration, was horrified when he saw the results of his thoughtlessness. He regarded me as a friend and honored adviser, and now he was being expected to have me mercilessly thrown to hungry lions! But, having put his royal seal to the decree, he had no choice but to carry out the law.
"Yet I did not lose hope," concluded Daniel, his eyes shining with great faith in G-d. "I prayed to the Almighty that he show these heathens that He and He alone was, is, and ever will be the One and Only Master of the Universe which He created and controls. I prayed that He spare my life, and not allow the hungry lions to touch me, so that all people would see the miracle and acknowledge G-d's greatness above all mankind.
"Imagine, therefore, the wonder of my enemies when I was thrown into this deep pit from which there is no escape, and instead of the famished beasts pouncing upon me and tearing me to pieces, the lions came gently fawning upon me and kneeling down before me in submission, then they settled around me in a circle as if to protect me. This wondrous miracle left no possible doubt but that G-d chose to save me from hurt, that He is the Master, and that only what He wills takes place!"
When Daniel finished his story, he and Habakkuk bade each other farewell, and the angel took Habakkuk and transported him back to his home in the Land of Israel, in the same manner as he had carried him to Daniel.
Later, Habakkuk heard, as did the whole world, that King Darius gladly had Daniel removed from the den. At the same time the King ordered that Daniel's enemies be thrown into the lions' den instead. This time, however, the lions behaved very differently. As soon as the courtiers came hurtling down into the lions' den, the hungry beasts pounced upon them and tore them apart limb by limb, giving a fitting end to such cruel tyrants who wanted to give this horrible punishment to the innocent, G-d-fearing and law-abiding Daniel.
Most of Habakkuk's prophecies relate to the future kingdoms of Babylon, Persia and Media which would expand and eventually become so great that they would conquer the Land of Israel and the rest of the world.
Habakkuk's chief message was a sad prophecy of the triumph of the Chaldeans (Babylonians) over Israel. He warns his people of the Divine retribution that would come swiftly and overwhelmingly:
"How long, O Lord, shall I cry and You will not hear? I cry out unto You of violence, and You will not save .... Behold, I will raise the Chaldeans, that bitter and impetuous nation that march to the wide spaces of the earth to conquer dwelling places that are not theirs. Terrible and dreadful are they; from them alone go forth their laws and dignity. Swifter than leopards are their horses, and fiercer than wolves at night. And their horses come riding on, arriving from afar. They fly like eagles, hastening to eat. They all come for violence; their faces are like the east wind, and they gather captives as the sand. And they will make sport with kings, and princes will be a play to them. At every stronghold will they laugh .... They make their power god . . . ."
Seeing how the wicked and arrogant Chaldeans will trample upon Israel, Habakkuk cries out to G-d with pain:
"You are of eyes too pure to behold evil, and can not look upon mischief, wherefore do you look, when they deal treacherously, and hold Your peace, when the wicked swallow up the man that is more righteous than he?"
But the prophet receives the answer that justice and righteousness shall triumph and that Israel shall survive.
"And the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision, and make it plain upon the tables, that a man may read swiftly .... Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay .... The righteous shall live by his faith."