The Prophecy of Habakkuk - Habakkuk 1 and 2

The Prophecy of Habakkuk

As mentioned in the introduction, the first two chapters are written in the form of two dialogues between Habakkuk and the Lord.  The prophet is utterly confused in his conversations with God.

 

The First Dialogue Between
Habakkuk and God.  1:1-11.

In the first verse we read about the burden which the prophet Habakkuk saw.  Some versions of the Bible present prophecy as an alternative translation for the word burden.  While it is true that much of the content of the book is prophetic, burden is the better, more accurate word.  Burden (Hebrew, massa') is first found in Exodus 23:5, where we read about a donkey lying under its burden.  The word is descriptive of the heavy load that the prophet was bearing.

 

THE BURDEN OF UNANSWERED PRAYER.  1:1-4.

"O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?"  Today O! is an exclamation missing from many prayers.  In Habakkuk's case it prefaced his perplexity and despair.  God's people need to put the O! back in their prayers.

We don't know how long the prophet had prayed.  Neither do we know the frequency with which He called upon the Lord.  Undoubtedly Habakkuk had made intercession for sinful Judah with persistence and intensity.  He cried out aloud to God, which is the meaning of the word cry (Hebrew, chava').  One descriptive word summarized the sad state of Jerusalem.  Violence!  In the first four verses we find the following words also used by Habakkuk: violence (twice), iniquity, trouble (or evil), plundering, strife, and contention.  Both Jeremiah and Zephaniah were contemporaries of Habakkuk, who addressed the sinfulness of Judah, calling the nation to repentance.  But the unrepentant nation continued in its self-destructive, sinful ways.

God did nothing.  The prophet cried, "You will not hear?" and "You will not save."  What a sad state of affairs!  His frustration is expressed in one word---Why?  He was saying, "Why don't You do something?"  Have you ever suffered the heart rending disappointment of unanswered prayer?  Habakkuk had been waiting for the Lord to intervene in restoring the backslidden nation to Himself.

The pathetic situation in Judah and Jerusalem was disheartening indeed.  In verse 4 the prophet itemizes four of the ills of his society.  First, the law was powerless, or slack.  It was not effectively enforced.  Violence was running wild, creating havoc in the streets, and the law provided no restraint.  Law enforcement was a problem.  Second, justice never went forth.  Even when lawbreakers were apprehended, the courts failed to provide justice.  The judiciary was also at fault.  Third, the wicked surrounded the righteous.  The word surround (Hebrew, kathar), when used in a hostile sense, means to beseige.  Those who lived for God were under constant attack by the ungodly.  Fourth, perverse justice went forth.  This was a serious indictment against the judges, who should have judged justly but didn't.

What a tremendous burden this prophet of God carried!  O Lord, why don't You answer my prayers?

 

THE JUDGMENT OF UNREPENTANT JUDAH.  1:5-11.

God answered Habakkuk.  He was neither indifferent nor insensitive to the violence and lack of justice in the land.  It is interesting that the subject in this sentence in verse 5 is You understood.  In the Hebrew text You is in the plural.  In other words, the Lord is addressing both the prophet and the people.  "Look...watch---"  They were suffering from myopia, nearsightedness.

The Lord was about to reveal an astounding work that they would not believe, even though He foretold it.  The prophet Isaiah had delivered a similar message to the Jews of his day.  See Isaiah 29:14.  That generation had dull hearts, heavy ears, and closed eyes.  Habakkuk's generation was not any better.  Neither was Jesus' generation.  The Lord foretold his death and resurrection on more than one occasion, but this amazing work was not initially believed by His own disciples.  In fact when the apostle Peter heard the message, he rebuked Christ.  Matthew 16:21, 22.

What was this amazing work that God was going to do?  "For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans."  God was going to use the ruthless Chaldeans as His instrument in the judgment of unrepentant Judah and Jerusalem.  How could that possibly be?  During the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States some preachers warned, "If we do not repent and turn to the Lord, God might use the Soviets to judge us, even as He used the Chaldeans to judge Judah."  Unbelievable?

Just who were the Chaldeans?  Consider five descriptions of them.  First, their status.  They were a rising world power, the first of four Gentile world powers.  In Daniel 2:38 Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom, Babylon, was the head of gold.  Then in Daniel 7:4 the Chaldean kingdom was like a ferocious lion.  They had already defeated both Assyria and Egypt, marching through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that were not theirs.  The word possess (Hebrew, yarash) includes the thought of driving out the previous tenants.

Second, their swiftness.  They were "a bitter and hasty nation."  Their swiftness is described for us in verse 8.  "Their horses also are swifter than leopards, and more fierce than evening wolves.  Their chargers charge ahead; their cavalry comes from afar; they fly as the eagle that hastens to eat."

The third characteristic of the Babylonians was their severity"They are terrible and dreadful."  Both of these descriptive terms have the thought of putting fear into the hearts of their enemies.  They were indeed a frightening force.  "They all come for violence; their faces are set like the east wind."  The east wind was notorious for causing devastation to vegetation.  According to Ezekiel 17:10, "Behold, it is planted, will it thrive?  Will it not utterly wither when the east wind touches it?  It will wither in the garden terrace where it grew."  See also Hosea 13:15.  "They gather captives like sand."  Like the sand of the desert, captives taken by the Chaldeans could not be numbered, there were too many.

Fourth, consider their scorning or scoffing.  The ferocious army of Babylon directed its scoffing at "kings" and "princes."  They ridiculed royalty.  They also laughed at fortified cities described as "strongholds."  Earthen mounds were bulldozed, upon which they raced into the fortresses of their enemies.  See Ezekiel 4:2 to learn something of the battle strategy of ancient armies.

Finally, their sinfulness.  "Then his mind changes, and he transgresses; he commits offense (Hebrew, 'asham), which means to be guilty, and by implication deserving of punishment.  The Babylonians were unmerciful in their treatment of others.  Their sinfulness was expressed in idolatry, as they attributed their military success to their god.  This was the nation that God was going to use to judge Judah.

 

The Second Dialogue Between
Habakkuk and God.  1:12-2:20.

The Lord's response to the first Why? of the prophet was truly unbelievable.  How could it be?

 

THE CONFUSION OF THE PROPHET.  1:12-2:1.

Habakkuk has another Why? question for God in verse 13.  "Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?"  In other words, why would You use such a wicked nation to judge Your own people?  Judah was bad but more righteous than barbaric Babylon.  It just didn't seem right.

God's proposed action did not fit into Habakkuk's theology, especially his concept of the Lord"Are You not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One?"  Habakkuk's God was the eternal God, the great Jehovah, revered as faithful and true.  He was also Habakkuk's holy God.  "You are of purer eyes to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness."  How could a God like this take such action against His chosen people?  The God that Habakkuk knew was a God of salvation.  In light of this the prophet exclaimed, "We shall not die."

Habakkuk did concede that Judah was appointed for judgment, and marked for correction.  Here he expresses his hope that God's judgment will be corrective, a chastening rather than a condemnation.

In God's first reply to Habakkuk he described the characteristics of the Chaldeans.  Here the prophet has four more things to say about them.  First, they are like fishermen.  Habakkuk asks, "Why do You make men like fish of the sea, like creeping things that have no ruler over them?"  Then he describes the Babylonians as those who catch fish with hook and net.  Second, they are idolaters, who sacrifice to their net.  Their weapons of warfare are their god.  Third, they are gluttons, who live to fill their bellies.  Their food is plentiful and they fare sumptuously.  Fourth, they are sadistic, slaughtering their enemies without pity.  Their net is always full of victims of their violence.  Why, Lord, would You use a people like this to judge Your people?

Habakkuk's dialogue with God is ended.  Why?  Why?  The questions have been asked.  Now in the first verse of the second chapter the prophet speaks to himself.  "I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected."  Although Habakkuk was perplexed, he was unflinching in his devotion to the Lord.  He was determined to stand his watch, looking for the first sign of approaching Babylonians, and watching to see what God would say to him.  He wanted to hear from God.  He wanted to know what the Lord had to say.  Also, what would he have to say when chastened by God?  How would he respond to God's judgment and correction?

 

THE COUNSEL OF THE LORD.  2:2-20.

The remainder of the second chapter is devoted to God's second reply to Habakkuk.  How gracious of the Lord to commune with His servant!

First, the prophet is instructed to write"Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it."  The writing was a warning to the people of Judah.  It was to be written to be understood, not to be a display of the prophet's literary skills.  It was said of an editor of a leading Christian magazine, that he would rather use difficult words than simple words in his publication.  After all, it was written for scholars.  Of what value is the written word if the readers do not know what it means?  The word of warning was written that those who read it would run and tell others of the vision.  In this case it was the vision of impending invasion from the north.

Second, Habakkuk was to wait.  The Chaldeans were coming at "an appointed time."  They would come against Judah in God's time.  In the providence of God delay does not mean denial.  The vision was clear, the fulfillment was certain.  "Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry."  This verse, Habakkuk 2:3, is quoted in Hebrews 10:37 where He is substituted for it.  Many believe that this is a reference to the second coming of Christ.  However, most study Bibles provide an alternative translation of that which instead of He.  The point is that we need to wait upon the Lord for the fulfillment of His promises.

Third, Habakkuk was shown the way"The just shall live by his faith."  Habakkuk 2:4.  This verse is found three times in the New Testament.  First, it appears in Romans 1:17, where the emphasis is upon the just.  The first four chapters of Romans deal with justification, how sinful men and women can be declared righteous before God.  Sinners are justified by faith.  Romans 3:21-26.  Second, it is quoted in Galatians 3:11 where the emphasis is upon shall live.  Galatians deals with how believers in Christ should live the Christian life.  Are Christians required to live under the law, according to the law of Moses?  No!  We live by faith.  That's the liberating message of the entire book of Galatians.  Finally, Habakkuk 2:4 is found in Hebrews 10:39.  By faith is the emphasis of the writer of Hebrews.

God's answer to the perplexity of the prophet is wrapped up in six words: The just shall live by faith.  He wants His people to trust Him.  We are saved by faith; we should live by faith.  In the New Testament Jesus said, "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me."  John 14:1.  The answer to Why? is an emphatic Who!  Even in life's darkest hours we need to trust in the Lord.

In Mark 4:35-41 we read about a terrifying experience of Jesus' disciples.  They were out at sea, when a great storm arose.  While the disciples were frantically tossing water out of the sinking boat, Jesus was sleeping in the stern.  In desperation they went to Him, awoke Him, and said, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"  Jesus, the great Teacher, was teaching them a lesson even while He slept...the lesson of faith.  After He rebuked the wind He upbraided His disciples, "Why are you fearful?  How is it that you have no faith?"  The Lord does care.  We can always trust Him.

Finally, God's reply to Habakkuk concluded with five woes directed at the Babylonians.  Habakkuk 2:6-20 is a song of woe with five stanzas of three verses each.  The song is a form of poetic composition in which parallelism, which was mentioned earlier, is the principle of construction.  Woe itself is an interjection of warning or distress pronounced in view of impending judgment or disaster, usually related to sin.  The word is used 53 times by Old Testament prophets.  The prophet Isaiah spoke the word 22 times.  Here in Habakkuk we find the most concentrated use of the word, five times in 15 verses.

The first woe---for plundering (2:6-8)"You have plundered many nations."  The Babylonians were extortionists, who possessed an insatiable appetite to possess the possessions of others.  God predicted that the victimized nations would revolt.  Imperialism and expansionism often result in bloody revolution.  Conquered people do not wish to remain drained of resources and rights.  "Will not your creditors rise up suddenly?"  The word creditors (Hebrew, nashak) literally means to sting or to bite.  Those who plundered others would themselves be plundered.  Babylon would reap what they had sown.

The second woe---for pride (2:9-11).  The Babylonians were proud of their possessions.  They built their house on evil gain.  They set their nest on high.  Money is sometimes dirty, stained with blood.  Their building plans included the ruin of many nations.  A house built on the corpses of others ultimately winds up a graveyard.  The stones and lumber of their houses would testify against them.  Habakkuk 2:5 is interesting.  "Indeed, because he (the Chaldean) transgresses by wine, he is a proud man, and he does not stay at home."  How ironic to build a beautiful house in which you spend little time!

The third woe---for persecuting (2:12-14)"Woe to him, who builds a town with bloodshed, who establishes a city by iniquity."  The word bloodshed (Hebrew, dam) literally means blood or bloods, and always signifies murder.  Not everyone who sheds blood is a murderer.  Military personnel and law enforcement officers may kill others in the line of duty without being guilty of this heinous crime against humanity.  Because of an historical abuse of prisoners of war an international agreement was signed at Geneva in 1864, establishing a code for the care and treatment in wartime of the sick, wounded, and dead.  It is known as the Geneva Convention.  The Babylonians were indeed brutal in their dealings with others.

For all their efforts and conquests, that which the Babylonians built was to have no lasting value.  The Chaldeans labored for what satisfies fire.  Their victories resulted in so much wood, hay, and stubble.  They ultimately received ashes for ashes.  Jeremiah 51 is an entire chapter devoted to the destruction of Babylon.

In the midst of the darkness of the hour Habakkuk 2:14 offers a ray of hope.  "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."  The prophet Isaiah had made a similar prediction in Isaiah 11:9.  Many Bible scholars believe that this promise will be fulfilled during the millennial reign of Christ upon the earth.

The fourth woe---for privation (2:15-17).  The focus here is on the inhumanity and indignity imposed upon the victims of the Babylonians.  Shame and subjugation were the lot of the conquered.  The Babylonian forces made them drunk with wine that they might look on their nakedness.

God had a timely word for those who subjected others to such shame and humiliation.  "You are filled with shame instead of glory.  You also---drink!  And be exposed as uncircumcised!"  They were to drink of the cup of the Lord, and experience utter shame upon their glory.  The cup from the Lord's right hand symbolizes divine retribution.  Both Isaiah and Jeremiah wrote of the cup of His fury.  See Isaiah 51:17 and Jeremiah 25:15.  The indignities that Babylon brought on God's creation at Lebanon would cover them like a blanket, changing their glory to devastating shame.

The fifth woe---for practicing idolatry (2:18-20).  Reference has been made to the idolatry of the Chaldeans in 1:11, 16.  The Babylonians not only bowed to their nets and weapons of war, but also to carved and molded images of wood and stone.  "Woe to him who says to wood, 'Awake!'  To silent stone, 'Arise! It shall teach!.'"  An idol is a lifeless object though decorated with gold and silver.  "In it there is no breath at all."

The concluding verses of each of the previous four woe stanzas begin with because or forSee verses 8, 11, 14, and 17.  The final verse of this fifth stanza begins with but, offering a contrast to the Babylonians idols.  "But the Lord is in His holy temple.  Let all the earth keep silence before Him."  What a wonderful climax to this dirge of woe!  In verse 2:19 we have the mocking cry---Awake!  Arise!  Here---Be silent!  Silence most becomes us in the presence of God.

 

The Prayer of Habakkuk - Habakkuk 3

 
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