The Message of the Book of Habakkuk291
A few months ago, my friend Marvin Ball made a very insightful comment. He said that whenever we return to a text of Scripture, we are likely to see something we had not previously observed. We all know this to be true, but Marvin suggested an interesting reason for this: every time we come to a text, we come from a slightly different frame of reference. For example, we can read the Book of Psalms at a very comfortable stage in our lives and appreciate certain truths. But when we lose our job, or a family member, or our life’s savings, we come to the Psalms with a very different perspective. We see the same Scriptures in a whole new light.
How true this observation has proven to be this past week. I was driving back from a breakfast with several men when I first heard the news on the radio. An airplane had just struck one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Before long, a second plane had crashed into the second tower. Then there was the report of a plane crashing into the Pentagon building in Washington D.C. If that were not enough, we learned that a fourth airliner had crashed in Pennsylvania. It was soon recognized as a terrorist attack, and while the United States has not yet launched an attack, our nation considers itself at war with the terrorists who took part in this attack, along with those countries that have given them sanctuary and support.
I must tell you that the message of the Book of Habakkuk really comes alive in light of the events of this past week. I can think of no book of the Bible more directly applicable to the tragic incidents of last week. These events also shed new light on other Old Testament books. Take the Book of Jonah, for example. How easy it has been for me to criticize Jonah for refusing to go to Nineveh to proclaim God’s judgment on the Assyrians. But now, I can put myself in Jonah’s place. Suppose that God instructed me to go to Baghdad, Iraq, or to Kabul, Afghanistan to preach a message of judgment to Muslim extremists who were responsible for the attacks on our nation last week? How would I feel if I knew that my preaching might be used of God to save those who have caused such pain for my own countrymen? I can now better empathize with Jonah and feel some of the emotions he must have felt.
The Assyrians and the Babylonians were the terrorists of Habakkuk’s day. Accounts of the cruelty of these nations are mind-bending, both in the Old Testament and in the literature and artifacts of the Ancient Near East. They loved to terrorize their enemies so that they lost their will to resist or oppose them. There are differences between the Assyrians and Babylonians and the terrorists who ruthlessly killed, injured, and destroyed this past week, but the similarities are many.
It seems evident that the prophet Habakkuk wrote the Book of Habakkuk sometime during the 25-year interval between the fall of Nineveh (612 B.C.) and the fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.). It is likely that Habakkuk grew up during the reign of Josiah. He would have witnessed many of the reforms that took place during his reign over Judah. But Josiah was the last righteous king to sit on the throne of Judah. Those who followed him were wicked men. When Josiah died, all of his reforms died with him. There was almost no trace of godliness to be found in Judah. The prophet Jeremiah described the wickedness of Judah before Jerusalem’s defeat by the Babylonians (or Chaldeans):
But you are always thinking and looking
for ways to increase your holding by dishonest means.
Your eyes and your heart are set only
on killing some innocent person
and on committing fraud and oppression (Jeremiah 22:17).292
These were dark days for Judah, and Habakkuk did not like what he saw the people of Judah doing. Neither did Habakkuk like what God was doing (or rather “not doing”), so far as the prophet could tell. We will return to the subject of his protests, but first let us pause for a wide angle look at the Book of Habakkuk.
The first chapter of the Book of Habakkuk is dominated by the protests of the prophet. He is greatly distressed by the sins of his nation, and even more distressed that God seems to be doing nothing about it. Habakkuk accuses God of failing to do His job, as the prophet perceives it. God answers Habakkuk’s protest (1:5-11), but this only provokes a rebuttal from the prophet (1:12—2:1). With the exception of the first verse, chapter 2 is a divine declaration of foundational principles (2:2-5) and of woe’s pronounced upon the wicked (2:6-20). The third chapter reveals a radical change in Habakkuk’s heart. In chapter 1, the prophet demands justice; in chapter 3, the prophet pleads for mercy. In chapter 1, the prophet challenges God’s way of dealing with the wicked; in chapter 3, the prophet finds himself on his knees in prayer. In chapter 1, Habakkuk is protesting against God; in chapter 3, he joyfully praises God.
Something very dramatic happens to the prophet Habakkuk in the course of the book. He is not the same man we saw in chapter 1. The key to understanding the message of Habakkuk is to understand the process by which God changed the prophet’s attitudes and actions:
“The whole value of this prophecy is its revelation of the process that led to the song of 3:17-18. ”293
The answer is to be found in chapter 2. With the exception of the first verse of chapter 2,294 the entire second chapter is God’s response to the protests of His prophet. The centerpiece of God’s response is found in verse 4:
“Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, NASB).
The protests of this prophet have often been repeated over the centuries. The events of this past week have caused some to raise them again. Let us look at Habakkuk’s angry protest, at God’s response, and at the final response of the prophet in chapter 3 with an eye to what it says to us, as well as to the people of a bygone day.
1 The following is the message which God revealed to Habakkuk the prophet:
2 How long, Lord, must I cry for help?
But you do not listen!
I call out to you, ‘Violence!’
But you do not intervene!
3 Why do you force me to experience injustice?
Why do you put up with wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence confront me;
conflict is present and one must endure strife.
4 For this reason the law lacks power,
and justice is never carried out.
Indeed, the wicked intimidate the innocent.
For this reason justice is perverted (Habakkuk 1:1-4).
Imagine for a moment that you are walking down the street and you see an elderly woman being attacked by a gang of thugs. Then you notice a policeman, sitting on a park bench nearby. You shout to the policeman, pointing to the woman in distress. The policeman refuses to lift a finger to come to her aid and goes right on reading his newspaper. Wouldn’t you be angry with the policeman?
This is how Habakkuk felt. He lived during the final dark days of Judah, just before her captivity. The prophet rightly assesses the spiritual state of the nation, and he agonizes because the sins of his day are rampant. Most of all, Habakkuk fumes with anger because God appears to be doing nothing about it, and that is His job! That is the essence of the prophet’s protest: “God, I have persisted at urging you to deal with the sins of this people, and you have been strangely silent? Don’t you care?” “God, if you are a just God, why is there no justice?”
5 "Look among the nations! Observe!
Be astonished! Wonder!
Because I am doing something in your days—
You would not believe if you were told.
6 "For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
That fierce and impetuous people
Who march throughout the earth
To seize dwelling places which are not theirs.
7 "They are dreaded and feared;
Their justice and authority originate with themselves.
8 "Their horses are swifter than leopards
And keener than wolves in the evening.
Their horsemen come galloping,
Their horsemen come from afar;
They fly like an eagle swooping down to devour.295
9 "All of them come for violence.
Their horde of faces moves forward.
They collect captives like sand.
10 "They mock at kings
And rulers are a laughing matter to them.
They laugh at every fortress
And heap up rubble to capture it.
11 "Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on.
But they will be held guilty,
They whose strength is their god" (Habakkuk 1:5-11, NAU).
We might paraphrase the first part of God’s response this way: “Take a good look around you, Habakkuk, and you keep your eyes open. I am already at work, raising up the Chaldeans (the Babylonians).296 The problem is not that I am doing nothing, but that what I am doing is so beyond your grasp you would not even believe it if I revealed it to you.”
Did Habakkuk think that God had been “asleep at the wheel,” that He either did not know or did not care that His people were acting wickedly? Well, contrary to Habakkuk’s perception, God was at work. God informs Habakkuk that He is raising up the Babylonians as His rod of judgment upon Judah. These were an arrogant, powerful, and wicked people, who loved to terrorize their victims. Judgment, when it came, would be swift and devastating.
Verse 11 is crucial.297 God was in the process of raising up a very violent and cruel nation to judge His people. Let it not be thought that God is going to let them get away with their sins, however. These people had made their own strength into a god.298 They were cruel and vicious, and they worshipped themselves and they would be judged for it.
On the surface, Habakkuk’s rebuttal is based upon three impressive arguments. In the final half of chapter 1, the Habakkuk sounds more like a lawyer than a prophet. He attempts to reason with God on the basis of His character. He first argues in verse 12 that since God is eternal, God’s chosen people are indestructible. God is eternal, and thus His promises must also be eternal. God made a covenant with His people, Israel. He promised Abraham that he would become a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3, etc.) and David that he would have an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:14). Therefore, Israel cannot cease to exist as a nation. Habakkuk appears to have assumed that if the Babylonians were allowed to prevail, they would completely wipe out Judah entirely. Thus, God could not allow the Babylonians to prevail.
The prophet’s logic is far from flawless, however. Habakkuk seems to have overlooked God’s promise to preserve a remnant of his people (Isaiah 1:9; 10:20-22; 11:11; Jeremiah 23:3; Micah 2:12; Zephaniah 2:7). Habakkuk was wrong. God could use the Babylonians to chasten His people, and yet preserve a remnant, through whom His covenant promises could be fulfilled.
Habakkuk’s second argument is also based upon God’s character. God is righteous, and He abhors evil. God cannot approve of evil; therefore, God cannot approve of an evil nation destroying His people. The way the prophet sees it, God’s plan to use the Babylonians as a chastening rod is inconsistent with God’s character. A righteous God cannot achieve His purposes through unrighteous means. God will simply have to change His plans, or so the prophet supposes.
But Habakkuk’s logic is wrong. The use of foreign nations as a chastening rod was not inconsistent with His character, and it was not something new. God had foretold this in the Mosaic Covenant:
36 The Lord will force you and your king whom you will appoint over you to go to a people whom you and your ancestors have not known and you will serve other gods of wood and stone there. 37 You will become an occasion of horror, a proverb, and an object of ridicule to all the people among whom the Lord will drive you… . 49 The Lord will raise up a distant nation against you, one from the other side of the earth as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a nation of stern appearance that will have no regard for the elderly or consideration for the young (Deuteronomy 28:36-37, 49-50).
The Book of Judges is filled with examples of God’s use of foreign nations as His chastening rod:
13 They [Israel] abandoned the Lord and worshiped Baal and the Ashtars. 14 The Lord was furious with Israel and handed them over to robbers who plundered them. He turned them over to their enemies who lived around them. They could not withstand their enemies’ attacks (Judges 2:13-14),
God is morally just in using the wicked to achieve His purposes:
For the wrath of man shall praise You;
With a remnant of wrath You will gird Yourself (Psalm 76:10, NAU).
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28, NAU).
God is righteous, and He is also sovereign. He is able to use the wicked, and even their wicked deeds to accomplish His purposes. For the moment, I will cite only one example – Pharaoh:
For the scripture says to Pharaoh: “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may demonstrate my power in you, and that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Romans 9:17).
Pharaoh’s oppression of God’s people, and his refusal to let God’s people go, became an occasion of blessing for the Israelite nation. It resulted in their release from slavery and their possession of the land of Canaan. Nevertheless, they did suffer under the hand of Pharaoh for a number of years. God used the wicked to accomplish His purposes. God used Pharaoh to bring Himself glory and to produce good for His people, Israel. Habakkuk was wrong. A righteous God can use wicked men to achieve His purposes.
I believe that Habakkuk’s second argument is further flawed in that it is based upon the very questionable assumption that the people of Judah are more righteous than the Chaldeans.
You are too just to tolerate evil;
you are unable to condone wrongdoing.
So why do you put up with such treacherous people?
Why do you say nothing when the wicked devour those who are relatively innocent?
(Habakkuk 1:13, emphasis mine)
The NAU translates the last part of verse 13 quite literally,
Why do You look with favor
On those who deal treacherously?
Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up
Those more righteous than they? (NAU, emphasis mine)
This is a very dangerous argument, in my opinion, and one that almost all of us have employed at one time or another. We know that certain things are sin, but we generally have different categories of sin. The Jews of Jesus’ day found Jesus guilty of blasphemy, an unpardonable sin to them, and yet they were self-righteous and greedy. They found ways to avoid their responsibilities to their parents and, according to Jesus, they stole widows’ houses. They oppressed the poor in the process of making themselves rich.
I would agree with you that some sins are certainly worse than others in terms of their effects. A murderer or a rapist may cause untold suffering, while one who is proud and arrogant may merely prove offensive to others. But at their root, all sins are against God, are abhorrent to God, and are worthy of God’s eternal wrath. Showing partiality or favoritism may not appear to be a terrible sin in our eyes, but James puts this sin in a different light:
1 My brothers and sisters, do not show prejudice if you possess faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. 2 For if someone comes into your assembly wearing a gold ring and fine clothing, and a poor person enters in filthy clothes, 3 do you pay attention to the one finely dressed and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and to the poor person, “You stand over there,” or “Sit under my feet”? 4 If so, have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters! Did not God choose the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor! Are not the rich oppressing you and dragging you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme the good name of the one you belong to? 8 But if you fulfill the royal law as expressed in this scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show prejudice, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as violators. 10 For the one who obeys the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but you commit murder, you have become a violator of the law. 12 Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom. 13 For judgment is merciless for the one who has shown no mercy. But mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:1-13).299
Habakkuk’s argument falls on it’s face in the light of Israel’s sins and in the light of statements such as this:
7 He [Manasseh] put an idol of Asherah he had made in the temple, about which the Lord had said to David and to his son Solomon, “This temple in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will be my permanent home. 8 I will not make Israel again leave the land I gave to their ancestors, provided that they carefully obey all I commanded them, the whole law my servant Moses ordered them to obey.” 9 But they did not obey and Manasseh misled them so that they sinned more than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed from before the Israelites. 10 So the Lord announced through his servants the prophets: 11 “King Manasseh of Judah has committed horrible sins. He has sinned more than the Amorites before him and has encouraged Judah to sin by worshiping his disgusting idols. 12 So this is what the Lord God of Israel says, ‘I am about to bring disaster on Jerusalem and Judah. The news will reverberate in the ears of those who hear about it’” (2 Kings 21:7-12, emphasis mine).300
I believe the fatal flaw in Habakkuk’s second argument is exposed by his own words in 1:14-17 and by God’s words to the prophet in chapter 2. But for the moment, let those who would justify or minimize their sins by pointing to the “greater” sins of others beware.
Habakkuk has yet a third argument, one which I am sure he felt was the clincher. Habakkuk must have consoled himself with the thought that God could certainly not deny the force of his logic in this argument. This argument is put forward in verses 14-17 of chapter 1:
14 You made people like fish in the sea,
like animals in the sea that have no ruler.
15 The Babylonian tyrant pulls them all up with a fishhook;
he hauls them in with his throw net.
When he catches them in his dragnet,
he is very happy.
16 Because of his success he offers sacrifices to his throw net
and burns incense to his dragnet;
for because of them he has plenty of food,
and more than enough to eat.
17 Will he then continue to fill and empty his throw net?
Will he always destroy nations and spare none? (Habakkuk 1:14-17)
If the law was clear on any point, it was surely clear that God hates and forbids idolatry. Habakkuk uses this as the basis for his third argument. The Babylonians are idolaters, so surely God cannot allow them to prosper against His people. Habakkuk describes the people of Judah as defenseless victims of abuse, like a swarm of fish in the sea. He portrays the victory of the Babylonians over God’s people as that of fishermen casting out nets, capturing many fish. Worst of all, these heathen fishermen worship their own nets as their gods, giving their nets praise and worship for a good catch. Surely this imagery should get God’s attention. Why would God grant the Babylonians success if they are only going to worship idols as a result? “God, you hate idolatry,” Habakkuk argues, “Can you honestly allow the idolatrous Babylonians to prevail over the people of Judah, and then worship the god of their own strength?”
This argument is a double-edged sword. God does not have a double standard. If God should judge the Babylonians for their cruelty and idolatry, then why should He not also judge Judah for its cruelty and idolatry? After all, God has already sent Israel into captivity, at the hands of cruel oppressors, because of their sins. Are the Babylonians wicked and cruel and worthy of divine judgment? So are the people of Judah:
1 I said,
“Listen, you leaders of Jacob,
you rulers of the nation of Israel!
You should know what is just,
2 yet you hate what is right,
and love what is wrong.
You tear off my people’s skin,
and rip the flesh from their bones.
3 You devour my people’s flesh,
strip off their skin,
and crush their bones.
You chop up them up like flesh in a pot—
like meat in a kettle.
4 Someday these sinners will cry to the Lord for help,
but he will not answer them.
He will hide his face from them at that time,
because they have done such wicked deeds” … .
9 Listen to this, you leaders of the family of Jacob,
you rulers of the nation of Israel!
You hate justice
and pervert all that is right.
10 You build Zion through bloody deeds,
Jerusalem through violent deeds of injustice.
11 Her leaders take bribes when they decide legal cases,
her priests teach for profit,
and her prophets read omens for pay.
Yet they claim to trust the Lord and say,
“The Lord is among us.
Disaster will not come upon us!”
12 Therefore, because of you, Zion will be plowed up like a field,
Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins,
and the temple mount will become a hill overgrown with brush! (Micah 3:1-4, 9-12)
Habakkuk wants to know how God can allow the wickedness of the Babylonians to go unpunished. Ironically, the answer to this question is the very thing that made Habakkuk angry in the first place. God is “slow to anger;” He is “long suffering.”301 His judgment often does not come as quickly as we would like. As God allowed time to pass before He brought judgment upon Israel, and soon upon Judah, He would allow some time to pass before bringing judgment upon the Babylonians.
Habakkuk seems very satisfied with the force of his rebuttal. He now will wait for God’s answers, and they had better be good. Even then, Habakkuk plans to dispute them, if God persists with His plan:
I will stand at my watch post;
I will remain stationed on the city wall.
I will keep watching, so I can see what he says to me
and can know how I should answer
when he counters my argument (Habakkuk 2:1).
There is a question that must be raised here: “Was Habakkuk right to speak to God as he has up till now?” Strangely, there are many who would seek to sanctify Habakkuk’s attitudes and actions in these verses. They make him an example for all of us to follow. I find this impossible to do. Prophets are not perfect, as we should know from folks like Balaam and Jonah. Every word of his prophecy is the inspired word of God, but I believe that we are to learn from the early words of Habakkuk how we should not respond to God when He acts in a way we don’t like. Habakkuk is a bad example, up till now. In chapter 3, it is a completely different story. Let me summarize the reasons why I cannot justify Habakkuk’s attitudes and actions in the first part of his prophecy.
(1) Habakkuk is angry with God. He does not question God in humility, but in rebuke. In Habakkuk’s mind, God has not acted promptly enough in judgment, and thus He is rebuked for being passive.
(2) Habakkuk is arrogant. His words sound like a man with his hands on his hips, rebuking his God.
(3) Habakkuk is wrong for assuming that God is doing nothing about Judah’s sins. The prophets had spoken of it, and it was only a matter of time. Habakkuk assumes that God is doing nothing because he is unable to see or to grasp what God is doing.
(4) Every one of Habakkuk’s arguments against God’s use of the Babylonians is flawed. How can a man who is wrong be right in his protest?
(5) There is a dramatic change in chapter 3. Habakkuk repents and humbles himself before God. He accepts the coming judgment, and he praises God. The words of chapter 3 are a psalm, recorded for Judah’s use in worship. Here, at last, is a Habakkuk whom we can follow.
I want you to notice several things about Habakkuk chapter 2. First, it is God who speaks here (with the exception of verse 1). Second, note the way God ends His response:
But the Lord is in his majestic palace.
The whole earth is speechless in his presence!” (Habakkuk 2:20)
No wonder Habakkuk ceases his protests and begins to praise God in chapter 3. Third, the reason for Habakkuk’s change of heart must be found here, in chapter 2. Fourth, the chapter is dominated by five “woes” that God pronounces upon the wicked.
I can just see Habakkuk standing there at his post, hands on his hips, arrogantly waiting for God’s retraction. God’s first words to the prophet might be summed up: “Petition denied!” Listen to what God says to His impertinent prophet:
2 The Lord responded:
“Write down this message! Record it legibly on tablets,
so the one who announces it may read it easily.
3 For the message is a witness to what is decreed;
it gives reliable testimony about how matters will turn out.
Even if the message is not fulfilled right away, wait patiently;
for it will certainly come to pass—it won’t be late arriving (Habakkuk 2:2-3).
Had Habakkuk succeeded in changing God’s mind about using the Babylonians to judge Judah? Not at all! God emphatically announced that His plans were moving ahead, in spite of the prophet’s protests. In fact, one could almost paraphrase verse 2 in this way: “Write these words on a billboard, Habakkuk, so that anyone passing by might read them.” The prophet was to proclaim the vision God had revealed. It was going to happen just as planned and prophesied. It was going to happen when God said it would. There was no turning back. The day of Judah’s judgment was at hand. The instrument of Judah’s judgment was already on standby.
Verses 4 and 5 of chapter 2 are the heart of the book, and the heart of the gospel:
4 "Behold, as for the proud one,
His soul is not right within him;
But the righteous will live by his faith.
5 "Furthermore, wine betrays the haughty man,
So that he does not stay at home.
He enlarges his appetite like Sheol,
And he is like death, never satisfied.
He also gathers to himself all nations
And collects to himself all peoples” (NAU).
It was not God who needed to change His plans (as Habakkuk supposed), it was Habakkuk who was wrong and needed to change. According to verse 4, there are two kinds of people: (1) those who are proud, and whose souls are not right; and, (2) those who righteous, and who live by faith. When you boil it all down, it comes to this, doesn’t it? Those whose souls are not right are those who are proud. They trust in themselves for salvation. They believe that their good works are sufficient to save them. They disdain grace as a form of charity, which they neither want nor need. Those who are saved have ceased to trust in themselves, in their goodness or good works. They trust in God; they know that He alone can save them from their sins. They humbly accept His provision for salvation, and they live their lives trusting Him and obeying His word. The “faith” in verse 4 also means “faithfulness.” The righteous enter into salvation by faith, and they persevere by faith as well. Faith is the cause, and faithfulness is the result.
It looked to Habakkuk as though the Babylonian victory would be the end of all God’s people and of His promises to them. The vision Habakkuk received was a promise that God would judge those who were proud and arrogant, and who were sinners. What Habakkuk should also have known is that God’s promises to His people would be fulfilled. God would save a remnant of the righteous, as other prophets had indicated. Habakkuk had to believe this by faith, and he needed to endure the days ahead by walking in obedience to God’s Word.
The principle of Habakkuk 2:4 is taken up in three places in the New Testament:
For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “the righteous by faith will live” (Romans 1:17).
Now it is clear no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous one will live by faith (Galatians 3:11).
37 For just a little longer and he who is coming will arrive and not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, I take no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not among those who shrink back and thus perish, but are among those who have faith and preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:37-39).
In Romans and Galatians, Paul defends the gospel against those who wanted to add works to faith, as the basis for one’s eternal salvation. Paul makes it very clear that one is saved from his sins by trusting in Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, who bore the sinner’s punishment as He died on the cross of Calvary. It was He who also arose from the dead and ascended to the Father in heaven. Those who have died in Christ, are dead to their sins and its penalty. These have also risen to new life in Christ, empowered to serve God in the power of the Spirit (Romans 6).
The writer to the Hebrews is applying Habakkuk 2:4 in a way that is very similar to God’s dealings with Habakkuk. Days of tribulation and trial were coming upon the Hebrew saints. Some were tempted to “bail out” by returning to Judaism. They were tempted to cast off the New Covenant and live once again under the Old. Like God (Habakkuk 2:2-3), the writer to the Hebrews assures his readers that days of tribulation are soon to come on them, but that these will serve to prepare the way for our Lord’s return. Until He comes, they are to continue to “walk by faith,” just as they were saved by faith. The righteous are thus preserved (“saved”) through the days of trouble as they persevere by faith.
There is another side to this coin, however. Those who do not “live by faith” are the proud, who will perish in the time of God’s judgment. I have come to the conclusion that the wicked who do not live by faith, and who will perish, include both the unbelieving citizens of Judah and the unbelieving pagans, such as the Babylonians. Let me briefly attempt to illustrate this point, although we do not have the time to pursue it thoroughly.
(1) Jerusalem and Judah are proud and arrogant and will be humbled in judgment:
11 In that day you will no longer experience shame because of all your rebellious actions,
for then I will remove from your midst those who proudly boast,
and you will never again be arrogant on my holy hill.
12 I will leave in your midst a humble and meek group of people,
and they will find safety in the Lord’s presence (Zephaniah 3:11-12).
(2) The word for “net” that is found in Habakkuk 1:14-17 (when referring to the wickedness of the Chaldeans) is used in reference to the people of Judah in Micah 7:2. The same violence which Habakkuk abhors in the Babylonians is practiced by the people of Judah:
Faithful men have disappeared from the land;
there are no godly men left.
They all wait in ambush so they can shed blood;
they hunt their own brother with a net (Micah 7:2).
(3)In Habakkuk 2:12 God condemns the Babylonians who “build a city with bloodshed.” Now listen to these words from the prophet Micah, condemning God’s people for building Jerusalem with bloodshed and violence:
You build Zion through bloody deeds,
Jerusalem through violent deeds of injustice (Micah 3:10).
I believe that one can find indictments against Israel and Judah for every sin that God condemns in chapter 2 of Habakkuk. Does God emphatically announce that He will judge the Babylonians for their sins? He surely does. But we must realize that these woes apply to everyone who commits such sins, including His chosen people. The people of Judah are guilty of the very sins for which the Babylonians are condemned. God is giving Judah a “taste of her own medicine.”
In verse 4, I see a divine indictment against all who are proud.302 This, in my opinion, includes Habakkuk. I have to conclude that Habakkuk had an arrogant posture toward God. This petulant prophet accuses God of failing to act as He should, within the time frame Habakkuk has determined. I therefore understand Habakkuk 2:4 as being addressed first to Habakkuk, and then to others. It is as though God had said to the prophet, “Habakkuk, I don’t think I like the tone of your petitions. You have accused Me of failing to act when and how you think I should have. Your pride is as offensive to me as the pride of the pagan Babylonians. You need to be humble and to walk by faith. My ways are higher than your ways, so trust in Me.”
The last words of chapter 2 serve as a powerful conclusion to God’s proclamation to Habakkuk and others:
“But the LORD is in His holy temple.
Let all the earth be silent before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20, NAU).
It is amazing how a grasp of God’s majesty, high and lifted up, can change our perspective:
1 Then Job answered the Lord:
2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted;
3 you asked,
‘Who is this who darkens counsel
But I have declared without understanding
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 You said,
‘Pay attention, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you will answer me.’
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye has seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself,
and I repent in dust and ashes! (Job 42:1-5)
15 If I had publicized these thoughts,
I would have betrayed your loyal followers.
16 When I tried to make sense of this,
it was troubling to me.
17 Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple,
and understood the destiny of the wicked.
18 Surely you put them in slippery places;
you bring them down to ruin.
19 How desolate they become in a mere moment!
Terrifying judgments make their demise complete!
20 They are like a dream after one wakes up.
O sovereign Master, when you awake you will despise them.
21 Yes, my spirit was bitter,
and my insides felt sharp pain.
22 I was ignorant and lacked insight;
I was as senseless as an animal before you.
23 But I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me by your wise advice,
and then you will lead me to a position of honor (Psalm 73:15-24).
1 In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the sovereign master seated on a high, elevated throne. The hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs stood over him; each one had six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and they used the remaining two to fly. 3 They called out to one another, “The Lord who leads armies has absolute sovereign authority! His majestic splendor fills the entire earth!” 4 The sound of their voices shook the door frames, and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 I said, “Too bad for me! I am destroyed, for my lips are contaminated by sin, and I live among people whose lips are contaminated by sin. My eyes have seen the king, the Lord who leads armies” (Isaiah 6:1-5).
29 After twelve months, he happened to be walking around on top of the walls of the royal palace of Babylon. 30 The king uttered these words: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” 31 While these words were still on the king’s lips, a voice came down from heaven: “It is hereby announced to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingdom has been removed from you! 32 You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and seven times will pass by for you before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes.” 33 Now in that very moment this pronouncement came true with Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from human society, he ate grass like oxen, and his body became damp with the dew of the sky, until his hair became long like an eagle’s feathers, and his nails like a bird’s claws. 34 But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me.
I blessed the Most High,
and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever.
For his rule is an everlasting rule,
and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.
35 All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he wishes with the army of heaven
and with those who inhabit the earth.
No one slaps his hand
and says to him, ‘What have you done?’
36 At that time my sanity returned to me. I was restored to the honor of my kingdom, and my splendor returned to me. My ministers and my magistrates were seeking me out, and I was reinstated over my kingdom. Tremendous greatness was restored to me, greater than before. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, for all his deeds are right and his ways are just. He is able to bring low those who live in pride” (Daniel 4:29-37).
The first two verses of this chapter signal the fact that Habakkuk has had a serious change of heart:
1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.
2 LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear.
O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years,
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy (Habakkuk 3:1-2, NAU, emphasis mine).
The marginal notes in the New American Standard Bible indicate that the term “Shigionoth” in verse 1 refers to a poetic form. It is very clear from other indicators that chapter 3 is a psalm of worship and praise:
Your bow is ready for action;
you commission your arrows. Selah.
You cause flash-floods on the earth’s surface (Habakkuk 3:9, emphasis mine).
The sovereign Lord is my source of strength.
He gives me the agility of a deer;
he enables me to negotiate the rugged terrain.
This prayer is for the song leader. It is to be accompanied by stringed instruments
(Habakkuk 3:19, emphasis mine).
This chapter is not just a prayer; it is a psalm, a psalm that has been preserved so that it can be sung in worship. It is clear that what we find in the third chapter is given to us as a pattern for our worship. I don’t believe that we are to imitate Habakkuk’s words or attitudes in chapter 1. However, I see a humbled Habakkuk in these verses, particularly verse 2: “LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear.” It is as though he has said, “I get the message, Lord. These things were not only written for others, but for me” (see 2:2). As Job’s questions were silenced by God’s sequence of questions (see Job 38ff.); as Nebuchadnezzar was humbled before the sovereign God of Israel (Daniel 4); and as Asaph’s protests were squelched in Psalm 73 (compare verse 17 with Habakkuk 3:1-2ff.), so Habakkuk is humbled by God’s words in Habakkuk chapter 2. He no longer protests against God’s apparent inactivity; He now praises God for what He has done, and what He will do, in His good time.
We do not have time to carefully consider verses 3-15, but we should realize that this is a highly poetic description of God’s working in the past, when He delivered the Israelites from the hand of Pharaoh and the land of Egypt, and as He brought them into the land of Canaan. Eugene H. Peterson paraphrases the first verses of this poetic description this way:
God’s on his way again,
Retracing the old salvation route,
Coming up from the south through Teman,
The Holy One from Mount Paran (3:3).303
It really is the “old salvation route” which Habakkuk’s psalm describes. In majestic terms, God is described as coming down near Sinai, displaying His splendor and glory (verses 3-4). The plagues are His plagues, going before Him and behind Him (verse 5). The surrounding nations who beheld God’s power were terrified (verse 7). Verse 8 appears to refer to the parting of the Red Sea and then the Jordan. Verse 11 seems to refer to the days of Joshua, when God caused the sun to stand still (Joshua 10:12-14). God triumphed over the nations, bringing judgment upon them (verse 12), while at the same time He was saving His people (verse 13a). God triumphed over men and nature. Surely, one must infer, if God did all this for His people in the past, He will do the same for His people in Habakkuk’s day (and in ours). Fierce and powerful though the Babylonians might be, God would first use them and then judge them, in His good time.
Verse 16 describes Habakkuk’s new outlook, based upon God’s words in chapter 2 and the vision of God in 3:3-15:
I heard and my inward parts trembled,
At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones,
And in my place I tremble.
Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress,
For the people to arise who will invade us (Habakkuk 3:16, NAU).
If Habakkuk stood erect, with his hand on his hips in chapter 1 (including 2:1), he now finds that he hasn’t the strength to stand at all. His stomach churns; his knees buckle (so to speak). He appears to collapse in worship and submission to the will of God. He knows that his arguments have failed, and that God’s day of judgment is coming upon the people of Judah, and upon the city of Jerusalem.304 He must patiently wait for that day, by faith, trusting that God will save His own, and that He will eventually judge the Babylonians for their cruelty.
There is something incredibly beautiful about the closing words of Habakkuk:
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds' feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.
For the choir director, on my stringed instruments (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NAU).
We could certainly paraphrase these thoughts in more contemporary terms, since most of us do not measure our well-being in terms of figs, fruit, and flocks. We might say,
Though the Social Security fund is depleted,
Though the stock market crashes,
Though my insurance company goes bankrupt
and my IRA account vaporizes;
Though I lose my job or my business fails,
I will rejoice because of the Lord.
“William Cowper, the English poet who suffered from acute mental distress and illness, knew this personally, for he cast Habakkuk’s testimony into these great lines:
Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruits should bear,
Though all the fields should wither,
Nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet, God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice;
For, while in him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.”305
These final words of Habakkuk remind me of the closing words of the psalm of Asaph in Psalm 73:
22 I was ignorant and lacked insight;
I was as senseless as an animal before you.
23 But I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me by your wise advice,
and then you will lead me to a position of honor.
25 Whom do I have in heaven but you?
I desire no one but you on earth.
26 My flesh and my heart may grow weak,
but God always protects my heart and gives me stability.
27 Yes, look! Those far from you die;
you destroy everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, God’s presence is all I need.
I have made the sovereign Lord my shelter,
as I declare all the things you have done (Psalm 73:22-28).
Habakkuk’s peace and joy no longer were dependent upon his circumstances. When God brought judgment upon Judah, Habakkuk could still rejoice, for his hope and faith and joy were in God, in God alone. In His time, God would deliver the righteous and fulfill His covenant promises. Until then, God was the source of His strength, strength which would sustain him in the dark days ahead. A humbled Habakkuk now realized that it was God who lifted him up and gave him sure footing in hard times.306
As I conclude, I am reminded of the words of the writer to the Hebrews:
13 These all [Old Testament men and women of faith] died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets. 33 Through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, put foreign armies to flight, 35 and women received back their dead raised to life. But others were tortured, not accepting release, to obtain resurrection to a better life. 36 And others experienced mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, sawed apart, murdered with the sword; they went about in sheepskins and goatskins; they were destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (the world was not worthy of them); they wandered in deserts and mountains and caves and openings in the earth. 39 And these all were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. 40 For God had provided something better for us, so that they would be made perfect together with us (Hebrews 11:32-40, emphasis mine).
As we now look back on the Book of Habakkuk, how do we explain the prophet’s change of heart? What happened to Habakkuk between chapter 1 and chapter 3? We must first point out that this change was not instant, but the result of a process, a somewhat painful process. Habakkuk did not understand what God was doing. He was angry with God for apparently failing to deal with the sins of His people. He could not understand how God could use the Chaldeans to judge the people of Judah. Through a sequence of events, God changed the heart of Habakkuk.
God changed Habakkuk’s perspective. Habakkuk had been looking at his circumstances and even His God through the eyes of man. The prophet rightly abhorred the wickedness and injustice that was rampant in Judah, but he wrongly accused God of “sleeping at the wheel,” of failing to act justly and in a timely way. The change came when he viewed himself and his circumstances from a divine perspective. Did Habakkuk think that God was doing nothing about Judah’s sin? He was wrong! God was already at work, raising up the Babylonians as His chastening rod. They would bring swift and strong justice by punishing the people of Judah.
When God revealed what He was about to do, Habakkuk protested that the Chaldeans307 were not the ones to be bringing judgment upon the people of God. Habakkuk felt that the people of Judah were more righteous than the Chaldeans. God’s revelation of Himself in chapters 2 and 3 set the record straight, and it set Habakkuk’s thinking straight as well. God did not take any sin lightly. Eventually, He would judge the Babylonians for their sins, just as He was about to judge the people of Judah and Jerusalem for their sins. Habakkuk was wrong to think of the people of Judah as “more righteous” than the Babylonians. If it is true that judgment is proportional to the degree of revelation one has received (and it surely is),308 then the people of Judah were even more culpable than the Babylonians. They had the Law, and they were the benefactors of God’s faithfulness to His people. They were well aware of the judgment God had brought upon the northern kingdom of Israel, and yet they persisted in the very sins for which the Babylonians would eventually be judged.
It is my opinion that as God pronounced woes upon the wicked in chapter 2, it dawned upon Habakkuk that he was at least guilty of pride, which God despised. It would not take much reflection for Habakkuk to realize that all of the sins that merited God’s judgment were true of the people of Judah, as much as it was true for the Babylonians. Judah was no better than the Babylonians.
I believe Habakkuk began to think beyond his own times, and as he did so, he remembered that God had promised to use the surrounding nations to discipline His disobedient people. Israel’s history was ample evidence of this, especially in the Book of Judges. Habakkuk began to look upon his times in the light of Israel’s history. As a result, I believe that Habakkuk had second thoughts about the arguments he had raised against God’s use of the Babylonians in 1:12-17. It was not God who was wrong; it was Judah, and even their prophet, Habakkuk. The prophet now views Judah’s future in the light of her past. God had previously judged His people, but He had also preserved a remnant; He had always accomplished their salvation. So He would do once again. And so the prophet humbly pleads, “In judgment remember mercy” (3:2).
James Montgomery Boice shares some principles that Martin Lloyd-Jones included in a commentary on the Book of Habakkuk entitled, From Fear to Faith. I would like to call attention to some of these principles as I conclude (I will indicate the principles mentioned by Martin Lloyd-Jones with an *).309 Consider, then, the lessons that we can learn from the Book of Habakkuk.
History is under God’s control.* In the light of the tragedy our nation underwent this past week, let modify the words of Martin Lloyd-Jones: All history is under God’s control. God is sovereign, in complete control of all things, including every event in human history. Nothing happens that catches God by surprise. Nothing happens that is outside His control. I have heard a number of comments this past week by well-meaning Christians that go something like this: “God allowed this to happen, and He is able to use it for good.” I do not pretend to know why tragedy has come upon our nation, nor do I know how God will use it. I do know this with great certainty:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28, NAU).
Someone was kind enough to send me the words of John Piper in response to the events of this past week, and particularly in response to the words of some Christians, in an effort to “get God off the hook.” I would strongly encourage you to prayerfully consider his words.310
History follows a divine plan.* History is the outworking of God’s eternal plan. History has a goal toward which God is moving it. We know that the goal of God’s plan is to fulfill His purposes and His covenant promises. We likewise know that God’s plan is all-inclusive, and that it will not be thwarted or altered. God’s plan includes calamity and blessing, prosperity and pain. When men sin and when wicked men cause others great pain and agony, they do so out of the corruption and evil of their own hearts. Nevertheless, God has purposed to incorporate the sinful acts of men into His eternal plan, to accomplish His purposes in a way that brings Him glory (see Romans 9:17, cited earlier).
God’s divine plan is often not apparent, because we are unable (and sometimes unwilling) to comprehend it even when we are told in advance. God does have a plan, but it often does not appear so to us. God is at work, though we may not recognize it as such. Who would have thought that the rapid rise to power of the Babylonian empire was God’s hand in human history? God’s ways are above our ways, and thus we must leave the future in His hands. When the Israelites came to the Red Sea, trapped between the sea and Pharaoh’s army, it appeared that God had miscalculated, that God had led them to destruction. The truth was that God was preparing to destroy Pharaoh’s army, while at the same time saving His people. God’s plan to save His people through a Messiah was not even clear to the prophets who wrote of His coming (1 Peter 1:10-12). Who would ever have believed that God was going to save sinners by sending His Son to this world, to be rejected by sinners, who would crucify Him as a criminal on a hill outside Jerusalem?
God employs the deeds of wicked men to further His purposes. This does not mean that God approves of sin. God will ultimately punish the wicked for their sin. But what a reassuring truth it is to know that the wicked deeds of men cannot thwart the purposes of God; indeed these very deeds are ordained of God to fulfill His plans and promises. God is not limited to using the obedient deeds of faithful saints. If He were, we would be in a great deal of trouble. Nothing can keep us from the love of God toward His saints – nothing (see Romans 8:31-39).
History follows a divine timetable.* God has a timetable for all of His plans, and since God is in no hurry, He often seems to act too late for our satisfaction. God is not in any hurry, though we often are. Divine delays are not an indication of His lack of concern or resolve, but of His mercy:
3 Above all, understand this: in the last days blatant scoffers will come, being propelled by their own evil urges 4 and saying, “Where is his promised coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately suppress this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water. 6 Through these things the world existing at that time was destroyed when it was deluged with water. 7 But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 Now, dear friends, do not let this one thing escape your notice, that a single day is like a thousand years with the Lord and a thousand years are like a single day. 9 The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare. 11 Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness, 12 while waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God? Because of this day, the heavens will be burned up and dissolve, and the heavenly bodies will melt away in a blaze! 13 But, according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness truly resides (2 Peter 3:3-13, emphasis mine).
God’s ways are not our ways.311 When we seek to grasp what God is doing from our present circumstances, we will surely be puzzled and perplexed. Abram was told he was to become a father of a great nation, but he and Sarah did not have a son for 25 years. He was told he was going to possess the Land of Canaan, but he had to buy a burial place for his family from the Canaanites. God chose to give us eternal life through the death of His Son. Who can ever anticipate how God will accomplish His purposes?
The righteous must live by faith. Since we cannot anticipate how God will accomplish His purposes and promises, and since we most often cannot understand what He is doing, we are obligated to live by faith, if we are looking to Him for salvation. We should not leave the Book of Habakkuk without remembering the impact this book had on Martin Luther. As a monk, Luther had become deeply aware of his sin and knew that he fell short of the standards set by God’s law. The words of Habakkuk 2:4 struck Luther as the key to his problem, but it was some time before he grasped that his sins were forgiven by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ, apart from any works of his own. Luther’s son wrote:
“As he repeated his prayers on the Lateran staircase, the words of the prophet Habakkuk came suddenly to his mind: ‘The just shall live by faith.’ Thereupon he ceased his prayers, returned to Wittenberg, and took this as the chief foundation of all his doctrine… . Luther himself said of this text, ‘Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with him because not content with frightening us sinners by the law and by the miseries of life, he still further increased our torture by the gospel. But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood those words – “The just shall live by faith!” “The just shall live by faith!” – then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors into the very Paradise of God.”312
Having come to faith in Jesus Christ by faith, apart from human works, Luther not only grasped the glorious truth of Habakkuk 2:4, but he rejoiced in the greatness of the God in whom he came to trust. He was then delivered from his fear of divine judgment and able to pen the words of this great hymn:
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing;
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not His equal.
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He,
Lord Sabaoth, His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim –
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Thro’ Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.313
291 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on September 16, 2001.
292 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
293 Campbell Morgan, p. 116, as cited by David Prior, The Message of Joel, Micah & Habakkuk (Downers Grove, Illinois, U.S.A., Inter-Varsity Press, 1998), p. 205.
294 Habakkuk 2:1 should probably have been Habakkuk 1:18. It is a fitting summation to his protest and rebuttal in chapter 1.
295 Compare Jeremiah 4:13.
296 The “Chaldeans” (KJV; NASB) and the “Babylonians” (NET Bible; NIV) are one and the same people.
297 Typically in Habakkuk, God’s last words in each response are very important. Note 1:11 and 2:20 (also 2:14).
298 You can see this illustrated in 1:14-17. While the various translations handle verse 11 in a number of ways, the point of this verse is that God will not tolerate those who worship any “god” other than Himself. They were idolaters.
299 See also Matthew 5:17ff. Here Jesus plainly states that the “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees is not sufficient to get them into the kingdom of heaven. Specifically, Jesus condemns the selective enforcement of the law, which sets aside one of the commands. Jesus then goes on to say that hatred is as damnable a sin as murder, and lust as adultery.
300 Later on, in Micah 7:2, the prophet claims there are no godly men left. This may be hyperbole, but it at least calls into question Habakkuk’s reference to those who are “more righteous” than the Babylonians.
301 There are reasons for these delays (see Romans 9:22-24; 2 Peter 3:9), but we will not go into this now. Remember that God allowed the sin of the Amorites to “ripen” for 400 years (Genesis 15:16).
302 This is a satanic quality, as we see in Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:2-19.
303 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Old Testament Prophets in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress, 2000), p. 538.
304 I realize that some translators render this verse so that the judgment for which Habakkuk waits patiently is God’s judgment of the Babylonians. While that is true, I think the dominant idea is that Habakkuk must wait for the judgment upon Judah that God assured him was soon to come. Only later will judgment come upon the Babylonians. I believe that verses 17-19 serve to reinforce the focus on the coming judgment upon Judah, rather than upon the Babylonians.
305 Cited by James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary, vol. 2, Micah-Malachi (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), p. 111.
306 I am reminded of Asaph’s reference to his feet nearly slipping at the time he questioned God’s justice (Psalm 73:2).
307 The prophets use the terms “Chaldeans” and “Babylonians” interchangeably.
308 See Matthew 12:41-42; Luke 12:47-48; Romans 1-3. This is very clearly emphasized in prophets like Jeremiah, who finds Judah more guilty than Israel, because the people of Judah looked on as God judged Israel, but they did not learn from her judgment (see Jeremiah 3:6-11; Ezekiel 16:44-52).
309 Cited by James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary, vol. 2, Micah-Malachi (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), p. 78.
311 This is the title Stuart Briscoe chose for his chapter on the Book of Habakkuk. Stuart Briscoe, God’s Voice Above the Noise: The Minor Prophets Speak to Us Today (USA, Canada, England: Victor Books, 1991), pp. 117-130.
312 James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary, vol. 2, Micah-Malachi (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), pp. 91-92, quoting F.W. Boreham in A Bunch of Everlastings or Texts that Made History (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1920), pp. 20, 27.
313 “ A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Martin Luther.