Posts Tagged ‘Habakkuk 1’

We are continuing on in the book of Habakkuk today and for the whole month of June.

Remember with me last time how Habakkuk complained that God wasn’t doing anything about Judah’s sin; about the powerful who were preying upon the weak; about injustice and oppression. Then God answered him that he is raising up the Babylonians to be his instrument of punishment on Judah.

Today we will cover the second interaction between the prophet and God – another complaint and God’s answer.

There are a number of verses to look at today so I will just briefly comment on them as we read through it. There are also some translation issues in this passage that I will not get into, but you can refer to the handout regarding the text I am using.

Habakkuk’s second complaint

“12Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? You shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.” Babylon is God’s instrument to judge and teach Judah regarding its covenant unfaithfulness.

“13You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at the treacherous and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” He is saying, since you are a holy God with pure eyes – why do you look without acting, and why do you remain silent when Babylon, who is more sinful than Judah, judges and destroys Judah?

Then we have a poetic picture of the situation, of all the nations that Babylon is overtaking.

People as prey: “14You make people like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler.” There is an allusion here to the Genesis account of creation. It is as if humanity has been displaced from having dominion to the place of being like the fish and animals that are hunted, here by the Babylonians.

Net/dragnet: “15He brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet so he rejoices and is glad.” Babylon is the fisherman.

Net/dragnet: “16Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich.”

People as prey: “17Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?” Will Babylon keep on destroying? God, will you not judge them??

Habakkuk waits

“2:1I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.”

God’s answer: Judgment is coming

“2And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. 3For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.’”

He is to write the vision down and then to wait for it to come to fulfillment, which it surely will.

Then we have the beginning of the vision.

The arrogant: “4Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him.” Talking about Babylon.

The righteous: “but the righteous shall live by his faith” or faithfulness. In contrast to the arrogant, God’s people are to trust in God’s promises and remain faithful to God – as they wait for the vision to come to pass; as they wait for God to act to save them.

The arrogant: “5Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.” Babylon conquers and wants more and more, but never has enough. Like an alcoholic wanting more drink, or Sheol always taking in more and more of the dead.

And then our passage ends with five woes on Babylon. This is the vision that will surely come to pass. A woe came from a funeral setting, for grieving the dead. It was used in oracles of judgment, perhaps because there will be grieving by those who are judged. In each of these their evil is described and there is a reversal that will take place. It begins – “6Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say:”

1. They are judged for taking the goods of others. “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own – for how long? – and loads himself with pledges! 7Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble?” It is as if they borrowed all the items they stole and now owe them back with interest.

“Then you will be spoil for them. 8Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.” With killing and violence against the earth and destruction of cities they have plundered. So, they will be plundered.

2. They will be judged for killing others to make themselves secure. “9Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! 10You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. 11For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.” Even the material they unjustly took to build their empire will cry out against them. Those who have killed, will be killed.

3. They will be judged for building an empire through killing. “12Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! 13Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing?” All their work to be great and honored, will be burned, it will come to nothing. (Jeremiah 51:58).

“14For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” In the end, only God’s glory will be left over all the earth. (Isaiah 11:9).

4. They will be judged for violence that shamed people. “15Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink – you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! 16You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! 17The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.”

They have violently judged others and put them to shame by this. Specifically they destroyed the ancient forests of Lebanon and its animals. For this they will be violently destroyed and shamed.

5. They will be judged for idolatry. “18What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! 19Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. 20But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

An idol is not real. So it is silent; it cannot speak or teach. You can only speak to it. The opposite is true of Yahweh. He is real. And he speaks. And everyone must be silent before him. In this case, all people must be silent before him and learn from him as this judgment unfolds.

A summary of God’s answer. Yes, it is true. Babylon is a worse sinner than Judah. But God will judge Babylon as well for all the evil they do. The righteous must faithfully wait, trusting in God’s promise of this.

And this is what happened. The empire of Babylon was overcome and destroyed some 60 years after God’s promise given here to Habakkuk.

We will look at the theme of the righteous living by faith in the weeks to come, but for now let’s end with some –


 – on the theme of God’s judgment. 1. True justice does not always take place on this earth. The wicked often prosper, even at the expense of the righteous – as in this case with Babylon and Judah in our verses. When you look at the world and think that things are not as they should be you are right.

But for everyone, there comes a time for justice; a time of reckoning. Galatians 6:7 says, “we will reap what we sow.” Matthew 16:27 says, the Son of Man is coming and “he will repay each person according to what he or she has done.”

God will see to it that justice reaches every single person who has ever lived. As I said, it reached the people of Babylonia 60 years later – at least in part. And true justice will come in its fullness on the final day.

This is a comfort to the righteous, who suffer injustice – knowing that all things will be made right some day. And it should cause fear to those who do evil.

Getting even more specific, 2. God will judge superpowers for their sins. Babylon was the superpower of its day. And in our verses, it is condemned for a number of things:

  • for being arrogant (2:4-5)
  • for being greedy for more and more wealth and power (2:5)
  • for the pursuit of glory at the expense of shaming others (2:15-17)
  • for trust in and glorification of military might  (1:16)
  • for taking the goods of other smaller nation and then living in luxury (2:6, 8, 9; 1:16)
  • for building its empire by “cutting off many lives” (2:9-10)
  • for killing others for its own sense of security (2:9-10)
  • for violence against the earth, for instance, cutting down the ancient forests of Lebanon and killing its animals (2:17).

We live in the superpower of our day. Now the US is not the same as Babylon was – but there are some parallels. What does this mean for us as God’s people; God’s nation, the church – living as exiles in the midst of this country?

3. God really does punish evildoers. Today many are not comfortable talking about God as “punishing” evildoers. We don’t want God to seem mean or vindictive.

But what we need to understand is that if there is to be justice in the world, then there must be a time of reckoning for all.

And this does not conflict with our call to love our enemies. In fact, it enables us to love our enemies. We can set aside our desire to punish our enemies; to make them pay, and rather act in mercy and love toward them – precisely because we know that God will take care of issues of justice in his own time. As Romans 12:19 indicates, we do not need to seek vengeance because, “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

William Higgins

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We are in the book of Habakkuk this morning. I would like for June to be “Habakkuk month.” It’s a short little book, but it has much to teach us. And I invite you to read it and think and pray about it, as we work our way through it.


Habakkuk comes just before judgment came on Judah for its unfaithfulness to God. It most likely covers the years from the rise of the Babylonian empire in 604 BC, to just before they destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. About 18 years or so; the final decades of Judah’s political life.

Concerning Habakkuk himself we really don’t know anything except what we find in this book – that he was a prophet.

Our text today is a dialogue between the prophet and God –

Habakkuk 1:1-11

This section begins with the heading, “1The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.” So this is an oracle or message that he received from a visionary experience.

Habakkuk’s complaint. “2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? 3Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”

This prayer was most likely given during the reign of King Jehoiakim, one of the last kings of Judah. His was a time when the powerful and wealthy took advantage of the weak and poor, to increase their wealth and power.

Specifically Scripture tells us that he oppressed his own people to build a luxurious palace for himself (Jeremiah 22:13-14). Also, he did not take care of the poor and needy (Jeremiah 22:16). And Jeremiah 22:17 says to him, “you have eyes and heart only for dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood and for practicing oppression and violence.” (Also 2 Kings 24:4, Jeremiah 26).

This sounds very much like what Habakkuk is talking about. Here are the words he uses in these verses: “violence” (2x), “iniquity,” “wrong,” “destruction,” “strife” and “contention.”

And those with power, who are in charge of dispensing justice according to the Law of Moses are corrupt. So the law is not being put into practice. It is “paralyzed” – v. 4. Justice doesn’t take place.

Rather “the wicked surround the righteous”; they have them hemmed in with no way to protect themselves. The courts are rigged so that the powerful get what they want. Or as Habakkuk says, “justice goes forth perverted.”

It is in this context that Habakkuk boldly prays, “O Lord, how long . . .?” – v. 2. This has been going on for a long time and he has been crying out for help for a long time. And as far as he can see, God hasn’t done anything yet. From his point of view God is “idly looking at wrong” – v. 3.

Now this kind of boldness may seem too much for us. But there is a long tradition of this kind of bold questioning and complaint in Scripture. For instance Psalm 13:1-2. It says, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” How long will the suffering go on???

One other example comes from Isaiah 63:15. The prophet is in a difficult situation down on earth and so he prays, “Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion are held back from me.” Why aren’t you helping me???

In all this Habakkuk’s prayer is simple – God take note and act! Do something about all this evil!

Next we have the Lord’s answer. This comes in vs. 5-11. And here we learn that God has not been idly watching. He has a plan and it is moving forward.

He says, “5Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. 6For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans . . ..” So the answer is that God is sending the Chaldeans or Babylonians to judge Judah for their sin.

Next follows a poetic description of the Babylonians:

A. Their character: 6that bitter and hasty nation

B. Their quick expansion: who march through the breadth of the earth,

C. They capture dwellings/do what they want: to seize dwellings not their own. 7They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.

D. Their cavalry: 8Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. 9They all come for violence, all their faces forward.

C1. They capture people/do what they want: They gather captives like sand. 10At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it.

B1. Their quick expansion: 11Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,

A1. Their character: guilty men, whose own might is their god!”

This tells us that they will take over the known world. They will do what they want capturing nations and taking captives. And all this is due to their military might – their cavalry and their skills in siege warfare, or taking walled cities are specifically mentioned.

So God is sending judgment by means of the then rising Babylonian empire. And as history confirms, they had no trouble conquering lowly Judah.

Here are some –

Lessons for us from this passage

We can be honest with God. Paul says in Romans 9:20, “who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God . . .?” He seems to be talking about someone disrespectfully questioning God and God’s character. But this isn’t what Habakkuk is doing – or the Psalmist or Isaiah.

His questioning comes from a knowledge of who God is. God is just and righteous. And because of this he is calling on God to act according to his character; to fulfill his purposes and to maintain his reputation. This doesn’t come from unbelief in God, but from belief in God.

So we learn from Habakkuk and others that we can be real with God. We don’t have to pretend we are OK, when things are really bad. And when we are confused or angry or impatient or feel abandoned – we can express this to God. God can handle it! God is patient to hear us. And we can trust that like in this situation, God will indeed act according to his character and God will uphold his good name.

God is very concerned about injustice and unrighteousness in his community. We see Habakkuk’s passion for social justice; for righteousness among God’s people. And we should emulate him. But God is more passionate, even if he waits hoping for repentance.

God did see what was going on and he acted decisively to judge the ‘powers that be’ in Judea for their evil. There are consequences to sin, even if it seems like God doesn’t see us or that we are getting away with it. We will be judged. We will reap what we sow.

This should lead us to ask, ‘What wrongdoing is present among the people of God today?’ (This is the analogy, Israel as God’s people to the people of God, the church today. We can certainly speak up in God’s name to address injustice among the nations of the world. But the focus here is, and in Scripture almost always is, on injustice in God’s community.) What wrongdoing is there among the people of God?

Do those with power take advantage of those who are weak? Think of the priest sex scandal; of pastors who abuse their power and trust; of celebrity ministers who get rich off the poor through manipulation of their trust.

Is there favoritism among God’s people? There has been much racism in the church. There has been much favoritism of the wealthy over the poor. Instead of accepting that we are all brother and sisters in Christ, we allow markers of the flesh to divide us – the color of our skin, the amount of money we make, where we come from.

Is there lawlessness? Yes, the church today is overrun by sexual immorality. And this is overlooked or even approved. You don’t have to look at the world to find this.

As Habakkuk said in v. 4, we can say today, the teaching of Jesus “paralyzed” among us. It is often not carried out.

Do we just go off in a corner with a few others who are like us, or do we care about the world-wide church? Are we concerned? Are we passionate about this? Are we asking how long, O Lord, until you act?

God is able to control the course of history. Acts 17:26 says this, “From one, God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live . . ..” (NRSV)

God oversees the rising and falling of various nations and empires, and he uses them for his own purposes. As he says in v. 6 about Babylon, “I am raising up the Chaldeans . . ..” Jeremiah 25:9 says of Babylon, “behold, I will send for . . . Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants . . ..” He is God’s “servant.”

God uses nations and kings, even though this is not their purpose or their plan. But God can do this. And then, when God’s instruments of judgment overstep their bounds, they are judged. Isaiah 45 says that Cyrus is God’s “anointed” raised up to destroy Babylon. And this is God’s doing.

What we learn from this is that God can providentially control what happens in our world. Not everything that happens is his will for there is much evil and sin, but he is in control of the outcome of history. So in the midst of the chaos and confusion of this world, we can trust God to guide history to his determined conclusion. And we can trust that God will bring about his will for us his people as well.

William Higgins

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