A God You Can Count On

1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet, according to Shigionoth.

O Lord, I have heard the report of you,
    and your work, O Lord, do I fear.
In the midst of the years revive it;
    in the midst of the years make it known;
    in wrath remember mercy. Habakkuk 3:1-2 ESV

Habakkuk has heard from God. The Almighty has provided the prophet with an assurance that Babylon will receive a just sentence for its role in the judgment of Judah. Yes, they will be used by God to bring about the divine discipline of God’s chosen people, but the Babylonians will also fall under His divine wrath for every act of aggression and subjugation they enact against Judah.

And with this assurance from God, Habakkuk begins to sing another tune – literally. This closing chapter is written in the form of a psalm or song. It is a prayer of praise in the form of a poem that was most likely put to music so that it could be sung by the people of God. The phrase, “according to Shigionoth” may be a reference to the melody that was to accompany Habakkuk’s words. The singular form of the Hebrew word is found in the introduction to Psalm 7, a psalm of David.

A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjamite.

But the Hebrew root word, shagah, provides some insight into what Habakkuk may have in mind with his prayer of praise to God. It means “to err, wander, go astray (morally), to sin through ignorance.” In David’s psalm, faced with apparent accusations of guilt from the lips of someone named Cush, he declares his innocence and asks God to either acquit or convict him.

O Lord my God, if I have done wrong
    or am guilty of injustice,
if I have betrayed a friend
    or plundered my enemy without cause,
then let my enemies capture me. – Psalm 7:3-5 NLT

He goes on to ask God for vindication and protection.

Declare me righteous, O Lord,
    for I am innocent, O Most High! – Psalm 7:8 NLT

He appeals to God as the one who “judges the nations” (Psalm 7:8 NLT).

God is my shield,
    saving those whose hearts are true and right.
God is an honest judge.
    He is angry with the wicked every day. – Psalm 7:10-11 NLT

And David is convinced that God will judge him fairly and eventually, fully vindicate him.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. – Psalm 7:17 NLT

It seems likely that Habakkuk’s song carries the same idea. Nowhere does he claim the nation of Judah to be innocent, but he does seem to appeal to God as a righteous judge who will one day vindicate His people. Having heard from God regarding the future judgment of Babylon, Habakkuk shares his intense longing to see that day come. He is expressing his belief that God will prove Himself faithful by fulfilling every promise He has made regarding Judah’s eventual vindication through Babylon’s destruction.

Habakkuk begins his song with a statement of wonder and praise for God’s remarkable reputation. As a prophet of God, he had been exposed to the very words of God, hearing firsthand what Yahweh had planned for Judah’s future. And it left him in a state of awe and amazement.

I have heard all about you, Lord.
    I am filled with awe by your amazing works. – Habakkuk 3:2 NLT

But, as a Hebrew, Habakkuk had also been raised on a steady diet of the stories of God’s intervention in the lives of His people. He had heard the creation story, the account of the flood and the preservation of Noah and his family. He had been told the story of God’s call of Abraham’s and the promise to make of him a great nation. As a child, he would have been exposed to all the stories about Joseph and the sons of Jacob in Egypt. The account of God’s amazing redemption of His people and their exodus out of Egypt would have been very familiar to him. The conquering of the land of promise, the rise of King David, the greatness of Solomon, the division of the kingdom, and the historical record of all the kings of Judah and Israel would have been well known to him. And through all those accounts, Habakkuk would have recognized the “amazing works” of God and been blown away by His power and persevering patience with His less-than-faithful people.

Unlike David, Habakkuk could not appeal to God based on a claim of Judah’s innocence. There was no way he could ask God to vindicate them because they were undeserving of His judgment. He knew full well that the people of Judah were guilty. In fact, he had begun his book with the admission that things had gotten so bad in Judah, that the wicked outnumbered the righteous.

So, Habakkuk looked to God’s well-established track record of showing up and delivering His people in times of trouble.

In this time of our deep need,
    help us again as you did in years gone by. – Habakkuk 3:2 NLT

Sadly, this was not the first time Judah had been faced with difficult circumstances. There had been countless other occasions when the people of God had found themselves faced with insurmountable odds and the potential for a devastating outcome. But Habakkuk knew that God had intervened on behalf of His people. He had repeatedly rescued them from their predicaments, graciously restoring them and providing them with yet another undeserved opportunity to prove their faithfulness to Him. And Habakkuk longed to see God do the same thing in his day.

But Habakkuk recognizes that the people of Judah were fully deserving of all that God was about to do to them. They stood guilty and condemned before a holy God. So, he appeals to God’s covenant faithfulness and track-record of extending undeserved mercy.

…in your anger, remember your mercy. – Habakkuk 3:2 NLT

It seems likely that Habakkuk would have been familiar with the content of the prayer prayed by Solomon at the dedication of the newly constructed temple. King Solomon had begun his prayer with a statement concerning God’s faithfulness: “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in all of heaven above or on the earth below. You keep your covenant and show unfailing love to all who walk before you in wholehearted devotion” (1 Kings 8:23 NLT).

But Solomon knew that he and his people were prone to unfaithfulness. He was concerned that their behavior would fail to live up to the terms of God’s covenantal agreement with them. So, he began describing potential scenarios in which the nation might violate their covenant commitment and stand guilty before God. And he petitioned God: “May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place” (1 Kings 8:29-30 NLT). 

Solomon was appealing to God’s faithfulness because he knew there was little likelihood that the people of Israel would keep their end of the bargain. And when they failed to do so, He wanted to know that God would still intervene on their behalf. Solomon even included a worst-case scenario in which the people of Israel found themselves defeated and living in exile as a result of their disobedience to God.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors. – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

Solomon knew that the only hope that Israel had for their present protection and future restoration was to be found in God alone. And Habakkuk echoed that same sentiment. He was appealing to his awe-inspiring, grace-bestowing, miracle-working God. And he greatly desired that God would continue to season His righteous anger with mercy. It was all the hope that the people of God had left. They had forsaken God. They had proven themselves incapable of living in faithful obedience to their covenant with God. And unless God showed them mercy, their future would be dark, and any hope of restoration, dim.

The words of the prophet, Jeremiah, written in the book of Lamentations, seem to indicate the heart behind Habakkuk’s prayer.

The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!” – Lamentations 3:19-24 NLT

God’s mercies are new every morning. Like the sun that shows up like clockwork at the start of each new day, God’s mercies never fail to arrive when needed. His faithfulness is unfailing. His love is unwavering. And, therefore, our hope in Him should be constant and abiding.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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The Lunacy of Idolatry

18 “What 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!
19 Woe 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.
20 But the Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth keep silence before him.” Habakkuk 2:18-20 ESV

In this final “woe,” God deals with the ubiquitous problem of idolatry. Ever since the Fall, mankind had been on a virtual binge, seeking for comfort, guidance, provision, and protection from anything and everything other than their creator God. In the opening chapter of Romans, Paul portrays this wholesale abandonment of God by fallen humanity in stark terms.

Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT

They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! – Romans 1:25 NLT

Man, made in the image of God, was wired for worship. Adam and Eve had been created by God to have unbroken fellowship with Him. Their lives were intended to bring Him glory through their faithful obedience to His creation mandate.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

So God created human beings in his own image.
    In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” – Genesis 1:26-28 NLT

But because of their decision to disobey God by eating the fruit of the one tree He had forbidden, any further access into His presence was denied, and the focal point of their worship was lost. And it didn’t take long before sin had so marred the image of God in man, that the Almighty determined to wipe them from the face of the earth.

The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth.” – Genesis 6:5-7 NLT

Yet, God had chosen to spare Noah and his family, allowing them to begin the process of repopulating the earth again.

And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”  – Genesis 9:7 ESV

And, obviously, Noah and his family were successful in fulfilling God’s creation mandate. They were fruitful and refilled the earth. But their fruitfulness was accompanied by ever-increasing faithlessness. According to the apostle Paul, the nations of the earth developed a perverse penchant for substitute gods, choosing to replace the one true God with deities of their own making. And it wasn’t long before their decision to displace God resulted in rampant godlessness.

Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:29-32 NLT

And yet, God, in His grace and mercy, chose to begin again. He chose a single man, Abraham, and promised to make of him a great nation. This man’s descendants would become God’s treasured possession on whom He would pour out His blessings and with whom He would make an everlasting covenant.

“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God…” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NLT

But one of the primary criteria associated with God’s covenant commitment with the descendants of Abraham would be their refusal to worship any other gods.

“You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” – Exodus 20:3-5 NLT

And yet, generations after the death of Abraham, his progeny would have proven their inability to keep their end of the agreement. The nation which had been set apart by God as His own would have established an unprecedented track record of spiritual infidelity. And by the time Habakkuk penned the words of the book that bears his name, the apostasy of God’s people would have become untenable and unforgivable.

The whole reason God was sending the Babylonians against the people of Judah was due to their unfaithfulness. And God had chosen to use an idolatrous nation to bring His judgment upon His idolatrous children. The people of Judah, like their northern kin in Israel, had made a habit of worshiping false gods. So, God was going to fulfill His promise to discipline them for their disobedience. He would do to them exactly as Moses had warned generations earlier.

“The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! – Deuteronomy 28:36 NLT

If they wanted to continue to worship false gods, Yahweh would make sure they had every opportunity – but not in the land that He had graciously provided for them. They would find themselves exiled in a foreign land, surrounded by pagan gods and powerful enemies.

And this final woe points directly at the primary problem going on in Judah. God’s chosen people were guilty of spiritual adultery. They had “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23 ESV). Or, as the New Living Translation puts it, “…instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.”

God reveals the sheer idiocy behind their decision to replace Him with man-made gods.

“Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
    to a silent stone, Arise!” – Habakkuk 2:19 ESV

Their decision to substitute the one true God with gods of their own creation was ludicrous. It made no sense. And God sarcastically portrays the stupidity of their decision.

“What good is an idol carved by man,
    or a cast image that deceives you?
How foolish to trust in your own creation—
    a god that can’t even talk! – Habakkuk 1:18 NLT

“To speechless stone images you say,
    ‘Rise up and teach us!’
    Can an idol tell you what to do?
They may be overlaid with gold and silver,
    but they are lifeless inside. – Habakkuk 1:19 NLT

This is not the first and only time God had exposed the ridiculous nature of Judah’s idolatry. He had also spoken through Isaiah, clearly denunciating and debunking the veracity and value of idols.

The idol makers encourage one another,
    saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
    and the molder helps at the anvil.
    “Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
    then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:6-7 NLT

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit? – Isaiah 44:9-10 NLT

The person who made the idol never stops to reflect,
    “Why, it’s just a block of wood!
I burned half of it for heat
    and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat.
How can the rest of it be a god?
    Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?” – Isaiah 44:19 NLT

Only a fool would fail to recognize the obvious absurdity of idolatry.

The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes.
    He trusts something that can’t help him at all.
Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
    “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?” – Isaiah 44:20 NLT

And yet, here was the nation of Judah facing the very real prospect of having another idolatrous nation invade their borders and destroy their cities and towns. They were poor, deluded fools who had put their hope and trust in pieces of wood and stone. These lifeless and utterly helpless icons of man’s arrogant pride would prove to be unreliable when the judgment of God fell.

Later on, in the book of Isaiah, God issues a tongue-in-cheek challenge to the people of Judah. They could put their trust in their false gods, but the outcome of their efforts would prove less-than-successful.

“Let’s see if your idols can save you
    when you cry to them for help.
Why, a puff of wind can knock them down!
    If you just breathe on them, they fall over!
But whoever trusts in me will inherit the land
    and possess my holy mountain.” – Isaiah 57:13 NLT

And God points out to Habakkuk that the man-made, lifeless gods the people of Judah had chosen to worship were no substitute for Him.

“But the Lord is in his holy temple;
    let all the earth keep silence before him.” – Habakkuk 2:20 ESV

God was not some elf-on-a-shelf, made from human hands and carried from one place to another. He was “the Lord,” Jehovah, “the existing one.” And He was in His holy temple, looking down on His disobedient and unfaithful people, and preparing to unleash His righteous indignation upon them.

The God of the universe is a jealous God who will not share His glory with anyone or anything. He will not put up with the worship of false gods. Yes, He will tolerate this behavior for a time, patiently putting up with the fickleness and unfaithfulness of fallen humanity. But the day is coming when He will eliminate all the false gods manufactured by fallen men. And all the earth will stand before Him in reverent awe and stunned silence.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Intoxicated With the World

15 “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—
    you pour out your wrath and make them drunk,
    in order to gaze at their nakedness!
16 You 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!
17 The 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.” Habakkuk 2:15-17 ESV

It’s quite obvious that God had no love affair with the Babylonians. He was going to use them as His instruments of wrath against the disobedience people of Judah, but He despised their ways. They were a wicked and degenerate nation marked by ungodliness and driven by immoral passions that knew no bounds. They were opportunistic oppressors who took advantage of their superior military strength to extend their borders and expand their vast wealth at the expense of smaller, more vulnerable nations.

The “Babylon” described in Habakkuk’s book is the Neo-Babylonian Empire, which rose to power and prominence under the leadership of King Nabopolassar and would dominate that region of the world from 626 BC until its defeat by the 539 BC. It would be under the reign of King Nebuchadnezza that Babylon would reach the zenith of its power. But in 539 BC, the Medes and Persians would invade and conquer Babylon, bringing an end to the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Yet, for the biblical authors, the name “Babylon” would come to represent all those ungodly nations which stood opposed to God and His people, glorying in their own power and worshiping their self-sufficiency and autonomy. It was King Nebuchadnezzar himself who bragged about the glory of the magnificent capital city he had constructed with the revenue he had gained from his many conquests.

“Twelve months later he was taking a walk on the flat roof of the royal palace in Babylon. As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’” – Daniel 4:29-30 NLT

In the book of Revelation, Babylon comes to represent the kingdom of the Antichrist, the world leader who will come to power in the last days. He will set up a great vast empire that spans the globe and his capital city will become the economic, military, and political epicenter for the world. And like the ancient nation from which it borrows its name, the end-times Babylon will be destroyed by God.

“Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen!
    She has become a home for demons.
She is a hideout for every foul spirit,
    a hideout for every foul vulture
    and every foul and dreadful animal.
For all the nations have fallen
    because of the wine of her passionate immorality.
The kings of the world
    have committed adultery with her.
Because of her desires for extravagant luxury,
    the merchants of the world have grown rich.” – Revelation 18:2-3 NLT

And notice John’s reference to “the wine of her passionate immorality.” The power and influence of this future Babylon will tempt the nations of the world to become intoxicated by its vast wealth and attracted to the ungodly lifestyle it represents. Decadence and immorality will be the order of the day in the kingdom of the Antichrist. But it too will fall, leaving the nations of the world staggering under the weight of their loss.

…the kings of the world who committed adultery with her and enjoyed her great luxury will mourn for her as they see the smoke rising from her charred remains. – Revelation 18:9 NLT

The merchants of the world will weep and mourn for her, for there is no one left to buy their goods. – Revelation 18:11 NLT

“The fancy things you loved so much
    are gone,” they cry.
“All your luxuries and splendor
    are gone forever,
    never to be yours again.” – Revelation 18:14 NLT

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    She was clothed in finest purple and scarlet linens,
    decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls!
In a single moment
    all the wealth of the city is gone!” – Revelation 18:16-17 NLT

“How terrible, how terrible for that great city!
    The shipowners became wealthy
    by transporting her great wealth on the seas.
In a single moment it is all gone.” – Revelation 18:19 NLT

In this fourth “woe,” delivered by God against the Babylon of Habakkuk’s day, we see a reference to “him who makes his neighbors drink” (Habakkuk 2:15 ESV). God accuses Babylon of using its vast power to degrade the nations of the world, causing them to stagger and reel like drunks, incapable of defending themselves against the immoral intentions of their adversary.  God exposes the true intentions of the Babylonians: “You force your cup on them so you can gloat over their shameful nakedness.” (Habakkuk 2:15 NLT). The imagery is that of sexual abuse, as the more powerful forces himself on a helpless and defenseless victim. 

But God warns that this kind of behavior will not go unpunished.

“But soon it will be your turn to be disgraced.
    Come, drink and be exposed!
Drink from the cup of the Lord’s judgment,
    and all your glory will be turned to shame.” – Habakkuk 2:16 NLT

The perpetrator would become the victim, getting a taste of their own medicine as God pours out His cup of judgment upon them. And rather than glorying in their power and prominence, they will experience shame and humiliation at the hand of God Almighty.

As has been the case with the previous three woes, God is making a not-so-subtle point, aimed at His rebellious and stubborn children, the nation of Judah. They stand guilty before Yahweh, having committed many of the same sins as the ungodly Babylonians. Prior to their fall to the Assyrians, the prophet Isaiah described the northern kingdom of Israel as drunks, who had willingly rendered themselves intoxicated and insensible, completely incapable of living up to God’s righteous standard for them.

Now, however, Israel is led by drunks
    who reel with wine and stagger with alcohol.
The priests and prophets stagger with alcohol
    and lose themselves in wine.
They reel when they see visions
    and stagger as they render decisions.
Their tables are covered with vomit;
    filth is everywhere. – Isaiah 28:7-8 NLT

God had blessed them with fertile and fruitful land, but they had taken the gift of His abundance and used it in ways that were out of step with His will for them.

What sorrow awaits the proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
It is the pride of a people
    brought down by wine. – Isaiah 28:1 NLT

They had become drunk on their own success, enjoying the fruits of God’s undeserved blessings, and arrogantly bragging that they were immune to His judgment.

You boast, “We have struck a bargain to cheat death
    and have made a deal to dodge the grave.
The coming destruction can never touch us,
    for we have built a strong refuge made of lies and deception.” – Isaiah 28:15 NLT

But they were wrong. Like the Babylonians, the people of Israel would see their immoral lifestyle come to an abrupt end.

I will cancel the bargain you made to cheat death,
    and I will overturn your deal to dodge the grave.
When the terrible enemy sweeps through,
    you will be trampled into the ground. – Isaiah 28:18 NLT

This fourth woe was intended to indict the people of Judah as much as the nation of Babylon. Just as their northern neighbors would fall to the Assyrians, the rebellious and arrogant Judahites would fall to the Babylonians. And, eventually, in His own timing, God would deal with the Babylonians themselves.

“The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you…” – Habakkuk 2:17 ESV

They would all reap what they sowed. Their glory would be turned to shame. Their self-sufficiency would result in self-destruction. Their love affair with wealth, power, and prominence would leave them staggering under the weight of their own poverty, weakness, and humiliation.

The prophet Isaiah warned the people of Judah that their fate was sealed. They had refused to listen to the messages of the prophets, calling them to repentance. So, God had chosen to keep His promise to bring curses upon them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. And, like Habakkuk, they would find God’s decision difficult to fathom and even harder to accept, it was the just reward for their rebellion against Him.

Are you amazed and incredulous?
    Don’t you believe it?
Then go ahead and be blind.
    You are stupid, but not from wine!
    You stagger, but not from liquor!
For the Lord has poured out on you a spirit of deep sleep.
    He has closed the eyes of your prophets and visionaries. – Isaiah 29:9-10 NLT

They had become drunk on the things of this world. But they had also been blinded by God, spiritually incapable of comprehending the danger of their situation and insensitive to His call to repentance. How easy it is to allow temporal treasures and worldly delights to blind us to the reality of God’s love. We can even allow His blessings to become distractions, focusing on the gifts rather than the Giver. This is why the apostle John warned us to never allow the love of the world to replace our love for God.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Glory of God

12 “Woe to him who builds a town with blood
    and founds a city on iniquity!
13 Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts
    that peoples labor merely for fire,
    and nations weary themselves for nothing?
14 For the earth will be filled
    with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.’ Habakkuk 2:12-14 ESV

As we saw in yesterday’s post, these woes against Babylon have a familiar ring to them. While the Babylonians were the primary target of God’s warnings of pending judgment, His choice of words seems to be carefully considered in order to drive home a point to Habakkuk and the people of Judah. If you recall, God had instructed Habakkuk to “Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others” (Habakkuk 2:2 NLT). This apocalyptic vision was intended to send a message to the people of Judah, not the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar would never hear what God had to say. But God wanted each and every citizen of Judah to hear His indictment concerning the sins of the Babylonians because they were just as guilty. In fact, it was their sin that was leading God to bring judgment upon them in the form of this wicked pagan nation.

With His third “woe,” God condemns that Babylonians for profiting from the misery of others. Their towns and cities were built on blood and iniquity, constructed by the treasures they had pilfered from their conquered foes. Their great wealth and prosperity had come at the expense of others. And their conquering of Judah had not yet taken place. The Babylonians would ransack the entire region of Palestine, leaving a wake of destruction in their path. And they would use all the spoils of war to construct beautiful homes, magnificent cities, and a nation of great renown.

But there is a thinly veiled message to the people of Judah contained in this woe. And it is one that God had spoken through His other prophets. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were just as guilty as the Babylonians, having built their own cities on blood and iniquity. Consider these stinging indictments from the lips of God and directed at His chosen people.

“Now this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
What sorrow awaits Jerusalem,
    the city of murderers!
For the blood of her murders
    is splashed on the rocks.
It isn’t even spilled on the ground,
    where the dust could cover it!” – Ezekiel 24:6, 7 NLT

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
What sorrow awaits Jerusalem,
    the city of murderers!
    I myself will pile up the fuel beneath her. – Ezekiel 24:9 NLT

“Listen to me, you leaders of Israel!
    You hate justice and twist all that is right.
You are building Jerusalem
    on a foundation of murder and corruption. – Micah 3:9-10 NLT

The apostle Paul warned the Galatian Christians of the divine precept concerning sowing and reaping. “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7 ESV). But this life maxim was not of Paul’s creation. It is found throughout Scripture.

You have plowed wickedness and reaped injustice… – Hosea 10:13 BSB

Those who plant injustice will harvest disaster… – Proverbs 22:8 NLT

…those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. – Job 4:8 ESV

By citing the sins of the Babylonians, God was pointing a finger of condemnation against His own people. Their ultimate demise at the hands of the Babylonians would be the just recompense for their own sins. They would be reaping exactly what they had sown. Their own iniquity and injustice would result in disaster and defeat at the hands of an enemy whose wickedness was like sin on steroids.

But the Almighty warns that the unbridled pursuit of comfort at all costs was ungodly. Those who work incessantly to build a mighty nation or even a successful career will find their labor to be in vain.

“Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts
    that peoples labor merely for fire,
    and nations weary themselves for nothing? – Habakkuk 2:13 ESV

The Jews had great national pride, pointing to the splendor of their capital city, Jerusalem, and the presence of the spectacular temple, constructed by Solomon. Under the leadership of King David, they had enjoyed a long and illustrious history of global dominance. Under the reign of David’s son, Solomon, the nation had experienced a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. But the subsequent years had been marked by civil strife, a splitting of the kingdom, and a period of rampant spiritual apostasy. And all during that time, the people of God had been plagued by an insatiable appetite for personal pleasure and personal success at all costs. Even Habakkuk had complained to God about the wicked outnumbering the righteous and the perversion of justice among his own people (Habakkuk 1:4).

It was for these very sins and others that God was bringing the Babylonians against the people of Judah. In Ezekiel 24, God gives His prophet a last-minute explanation for their defeat at the hands of the Babylonians.

“Son of man, write down today’s date, because on this very day the king of Babylon is beginning his attack against Jerusalem.I, the Lord, have spoken! The time has come, and I won’t hold back. I will not change my mind, and I will have no pity on you. You will be judged on the basis of all your wicked actions, says the Sovereign Lord.” – Ezekiel 24:2, 14 NLT

Verse 14 of Habakkuk 2 provides a very important insight into the motivation behind God’s actions toward sin and unrighteousness – whether in His own people or among the lost of the world.

“For the earth will be filled
    with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.” – Habakkuk 2:14 ESV

When God, in His justice, deals with sin, He brings glory to Himself. He reveals His own holiness and distinguishes the stark difference between His righteousness and the unrighteousness of men. God, because He is holy, righteous, and just, cannot allow wickedness to go unpunished. And while Habakkuk lived in a day when sin ran rampant among his own people, God was preparing to deal with it. And even though the Babylonians would used by God to mete out His judgment against the people of Judah, they too would one day suffer under His hand. And in all of this, God would be glorified as the one true God.

Like Habakkuk, we can find ourselves questioning God’s wisdom and ways, wondering why He allows the sins of others to go unpunished. We see evil all around us and can’t help but struggle with questions concerning God’s power and presence. Is He not strong enough to deal a knock-out blow to sin? Or is it that He doesn’t care or isn’t there? Has He left us to struggle and suffer alone, battling the evil that seems to surround us on every side?

God wanted Habakkuk to know that nothing was more important than His own glory. And He would not allow the rebellious people of Judah or the pagan inhabitants of Babylon to rob Him of glory. He had spoken through the prophet, Isaiah, warning that He was selfishly stingy about His glory.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not give my glory to anyone else,
    nor share my praise with carved idols. – Isaiah 42:8 NLT

All that God created was intended to bring Him glory. And man was the apex of God’s creative order. But sin entered the scene when Adam and Eve decided to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). Their decision to eat of the forbidden fruit was robbing God of glory because it was motivated by a desire to share God’s divine knowledge of “both good and evil.” And that penchant to rob God of glory continued through the generations. The apostle points out the long-term ramifications of sin on human society.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:22-23 ESV

Worship of anything other than God robs Him of His glory. Whether we worship ourselves, another man, our own success, a false god, comfort, ease, or prosperity, we exchange the glory of God for something of far less value and worth. And while God will allow this behavior to go unpunished for a time, He will not permit it indefinitely. The day will come when God restores His glory and reestablishes His rightful rule over all the earth. His Son will come again and put an end to sin and death, once and for all. He will set up His Kingdom on earth where He will rule in righteousness and all imposters, posers, and usurpers of God’s glory will be eliminated – for eternity.

On that day the LORD will become King over all the earth—the LORD alone, and His name alone. – Zechariah 14:9 BSB

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What Sorrow Awaits

Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say,

“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
    for how long?—
    and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
    and those awake who will make you tremble?
    Then you will be spoil for them.
Because 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.

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
    to set his nest on high,
    to be safe from the reach of harm!
10 You have devised shame for your house
    by cutting off many peoples;
    you have forfeited your life.
11 For the stone will cry out from the wall,
     and the beam from the woodwork respond.” – Habakkuk 2:6-11 ESV

God continues His response to Habakkuk’s critique of the divine plan to bring judgment upon Judah through the means of the wicked Babylonians. God has not denied the fact that the Babylonians are puffed up with pride, greedy, arrogant, and unrighteous. But neither has He apologized for planning to use this wicked nation as His preferred method for bringing judgment upon His disobedient children. God had shown no remorse in having used King Sennacherib and the Assyrians to punish the northern kingdom of Israel. And He was not about to alter His plans for Judah just because Habakkuk had a problem with them.

What Habakkuk failed to see was the bigger picture of God’s plan. The prophet, while a spokesman for God, did not have all the facts to make an informed decision. He was not privy to the full scope of what God had in store for Judah or the Babylonians. And in His response to Habakkuk, God graciously begins to reveal the hidden aspects of His divine plan. He was going to use the Babylonians to accomplish His sovereign will, but that did not mean the Babylonians would escape His justice and judgment. In fact, in this section, God pronounces five “woes” or expressions of lament against the Babylonians. In the New Living Translation, these five statements of woe begin with the phrase: “What sorrow awaits….”

While God’s answer is directed at Habakkuk, He has a much larger audience in mind. He has already told His prophet to “Write my answer plainly on tablets, so that a runner can carry the correct message to others” (Habakkuk 2:2 NLT). God wanted the entire nation of Judah to know what He had in store, not only for them but for the nation of Babylon. That is why He had emphasized their need for faith. They were going to have to trust that God would do the right thing. He would keep His covenant commitment to the nation of Judah. But part of that commitment had included His promise to bring curses upon them for their disobedience and unfaithfulness. He would keep His word. But He would also keep His promise to never fully abandon them. They would suffer punishment for their apostasy, but they would also enjoy future restoration because of His unfailing love and faithfulness.

But as for Babylon, God had plans for them as well. He warns that the day will come when He turns the pride of the Babylonians into humiliation and their global domination into defeat and despair. All the nations conquered by the Babylonians will rise up and taunt them. They will relish watching the meteoric fall of the once-powerful Babylonian empire and mock as their former conquerors become the conquered and the captives.

The first woe deals with the Babylonian’s penchant for enriching themselves by plundering then taxing their conquered foes into financial destitution. Their greed and avarice were insatiable. The book of 2 Kings describes in great detail the fall of Jerusalem and the pillaging that took place by the Babylonians.

Nebuchadnezzar carried away all the treasures from the Lord’s Temple and the royal palace. He stripped away all the gold objects that King Solomon of Israel had placed in the Temple. King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land. – 2 Kings 24:13-14 NLT

After leaving its conquered enemies defeated and demoralized, the Babylonians would demand exorbitant tribute payments, essentially taxing them into further submission. But the first woe explains that this practice would not go on forever.

“What sorrow awaits you thieves!
    Now you will get what you deserve!
You’ve become rich by extortion,
    but how much longer can this go on?” – Habakkuk 2:6 NLT

God would turn the tables on the Babylonians, bringing an abrupt end to their period of world domination. Just as quickly as they rose to power, they will suddenly find themselves on the receiving end of God’s wrath and having to deal with the rebellion and retribution of all their enemies.

“Suddenly, your debtors will take action.
    They will turn on you and take all you have,
    while you stand trembling and helpless.” – Habakkuk 2:7 NLT

Just as the Babylonians had replaced the Assyrians as the 800-pound gorilla on the world stage, the Babylonians would eventually fall to the Medes and the Persians in 539 B.C. And all of this was under the sovereign control of God Almighty. As the prophet, Daniel wrote, “He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings” (Daniel 2:21 NLT).

The Babylonians would reap what they had sowed. They would experience what it was like to have their cities plundered and pillaged, and their people indiscriminately murdered.

“Because you have plundered many nations,
    now all the survivors will plunder you.
You committed murder throughout the countryside
    and filled the towns with violence.” – Habakkuk 2:8 NLT

Now, while these woes are directed at the nation of Babylon, it should not be overlooked that much of what is being said applied to Judah as well. And it is likely that Habakkuk did not miss the somewhat subtle indictment that God was bringing against His own people. If you recall, Habakkuk had begun his book with a dark description of the state of affairs in Judah.

Wherever I look,
    I see destruction and violence.
I am surrounded by people
    who love to argue and fight.
The law has become paralyzed,
    and there is no justice in the courts.
The wicked far outnumber the righteous,
    so that justice has become perverted. – Habakkuk 1:3-4 NLT

The people of Judah were just as guilty of violence, injustice, greed, and unrighteousness. And the next woe is even more reflective of the attitude shared by many of those in Judah who lived in open rebellion against God while enjoying the many blessings He had poured out on them.

“What sorrow awaits you who build big houses
    with money gained dishonestly!
You believe your wealth will buy security,
    putting your family’s nest beyond the reach of danger. – Habakkuk 2:9 NLT

The Babylonians used all their plunder and ill-gained booty to enrich their lives and to secure their futures. They enjoyed unparalleled success and all the benefits that came with it. But God’s people were just as guilty. In fact, the prophet, Amos, provides a stinging indictment from God against the nation of Israel.

You trample the poor,
    stealing their grain through taxes and unfair rent.
Therefore, though you build beautiful stone houses,
    you will never live in them.
Though you plant lush vineyards,
    you will never drink wine from them.
For I know the vast number of your sins
    and the depth of your rebellions.
You oppress good people by taking bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. – Amos 5:11-12 NLT

This kind of behavior was to be expected from the pagan Babylonians, but it should have been unheard of among the people of God. Yet sadly, it had become the norm. Injustice, greed, selfishness, and an unbridled passion for pleasure and possessions made become commonplace among the people of God. And in pronouncing woes upon the guilty Babylonians, God was condemning the sins of His own chosen people.

“But by the murders you committed,
    you have shamed your name and forfeited your lives.
The very stones in the walls cry out against you,
    and the beams in the ceilings echo the complaint.” – Habakkuk 2:10-11 NLT

What was true for the Babylonians was true of the nation of Judah as well. And God would deal with both nations, according to His justice, holiness, and righteousness. They would not get away with their wicked behavior or escape His divine wrath. As the apostle Paul makes clear in his letter to the Romans, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18 ESV). Your country of origin does not matter. Your status on the pecking order of world powers makes no difference. Whether you are the conqueror or the conquered, God will hold you accountable to His just and righteous requirements.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Living By Faith, Not Sight

1 I 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 I will answer concerning my complaint.

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
For 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.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.

“Moreover, 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.” Habakkuk 2:1-5 ESV

With the opening of chapter two, there can be little doubt as to whether Habakkuk is unhappy with conditions in Judah and far from pleased that God’s solution was to bring judgment on Judah through the use of the Babylonians. Continuing his dialogue with the Almighty, Habakkuk declares that he is going to stand his ground, like a watchman on a tower, waiting to hear what God has to say to his latest round of questions.

Habakkuk was confident that God would respond and he fully expected it to come in the form of a rebuke. The Hebrew word he used is towkechah and it conveys the idea of a verbal reproof or correction. He saw himself in the middle of an argument with God and was already thinking about how he was going to respond when God was done defending His actions.

The various translations of the Bible have taken slightly different tacts when interpreting the exact thought expressed by Habakkuk in verse one. The ESV translates it as follows:

I 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 I will answer concerning my complaint.

The New Living Translation puts the emphasis on God, not Habakkuk. The prophet was expecting an answer to his second round of complaints.

I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the LORD says and how he will answer my complaint.

The New American Standard Version takes a similar approach, portraying Habakkuk as waiting to be rebuked by God and already formulating his response.

I will stand on my guard post And station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, And how I may reply when I am reproved.

It seems that the prophet fully expected his dialogue or debate with God to continue in some form or fashion. He was not going to relent or give up easily. And he was willing to wait, describing himself as a watchman on the wall of a city, scanning the horizon for any glimpse of a possible adversary. Habakkuk saw himself in a war of words with God. But his motive was not anger. He was sincerely concerned for the well-being of his people and was asking for clarification. What he had heard so far had left him confused and struggling to understand how this plan of God was in keeping with His covenant commitment to the people of Judah.

This whole exchange is similar to the one Abraham had with God concerning the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. When God had announced that He was bringing destruction to those two wicked cities, Abraham had intervened, realizing that his nephew, Lot, and his family were living in Sodom. Abraham had presented God with a question.

“Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”  – Genesis 18:23-25 NLT

In response to Abraham’s plea, God agreed to spare the city if He could find 50 righteous people residing within it. And this led Abraham to boldly counter with a slight change to his initial request:

“Since I have begun, let me speak further to my Lord, even though I am but dust and ashes. Suppose there are only forty-five righteous people rather than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” – Genesis 18:27-28 NLT

And again, God agreed to the new conditions. But Abraham was not done. The passage said, “Abraham pressed his request further” (Genesis 18:29 NLT). He continued to lower the requisite number of righteous residents in the hope that he could somehow assure the rescue of Lot and his family. Abraham even begged God to forgive his rather presumptuous and argumentative methodology.  “Lord, please don’t be angry with me if I speak one more time” (Genesis 18:32 NLT). But despite Abraham’s pestering persistence, God continued to acquiesce to his requests. And all of this was motivated by Abraham’s desire for God to spare Lot and his family.

As was the case with Abraham, Habakkuk was not arrogantly attempting to pick a fight with God. He was not arguing for argument’s sake. He had a legitimate concern for the people of Judah. His original petition to God concerned the dire conditions of those in Judah who found themselves surrounded by wickedness. Like Abraham, Habakkuk was concerned for the faithful remnant of God – those righteous few who were suffering in the Sodom-like conditions of Judah.

And Habakkuk, the self-ascribed “watchman on the wall,” got the answer he was looking for. He matter-of-factly states: “And the Lord answered me” (Habakkuk 2:2 ESV).

The first thing God told Habakkuk was to write down what he was about to hear. He was to make a permanent record of God’s response so that it could be disseminated among the people of Judah.

“Write my answer plainly on tablets,
    so that a runner can carry the correct message to others.
This vision is for a future time.
    It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.
If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently,
    for it will surely take place.
    It will not be delayed.” – Habakkuk 2:2-3 NLT

And God informs Habakkuk that the content of this vision or message was concerning future events. God was answering Habakkuk’s questions, but the prophet needed to understand that the fulfillment of God’s plan was going to be long-term in nature. Habakkuk needed to know that there would not be a quick-fix to Judah’s problem. A solution was on its way, but it would be a long time in coming. And Habakkuk and the people of Judah were going to have to prepare themselves for a lengthy delay.

And God makes it clear that the delay was going to require faith on the part of the people of God. They were going to have to trust Yahweh, ignoring the conditions that clouded their view and keeping their eyes focused on the faithfulness of their God. Unlike the proud, who “trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked” (Habakkuk 2:4 NLT), the people of Judah were to trust in God.

“…the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.” – Habakkuk 2:4 NLT

Things were going to get worse before they got better. The situation in Judah would not improve any time soon. In fact, the Babylonians would eventually arrive on the scene, destroying the city of Jerusalem and transporting its citizens as captives back to Babylon. They would remain there for 70 long years, suffering the humiliation of slavery and subjugation to their pagan overlords. But God encouraged the righteous to have faith. Even when all looked lost, He was not yet done. His plan was not yet complete.

This theme of faith in the face of adversity was picked up by the New Testament authors and used to encourage the righteous remnant in their day to remain faithful to the end. Paul told the beleaguered Christians in Rome:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 ESV

He wrote to the believers in Galatia, reminding them that salvation was not based on human effort or through some form of self-righteousness achieved through adherence to the law of God. Instead, it was based on faith.

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” – Galatians 3:11 ESV

Their right standing with God was based on their belief in the redemptive work of Christ. And yet, they were constantly being bombarded with lies that suggested their salvation required effort on their part. False teachers were claiming that faith alone in Christ alone was not enough. But Paul kept going back to the reality of the message of God: The righteous shall live by faith.

And the author of Hebrews picked up on God’s promise to Habakkuk, utilizing His call to faith, even in the midst of difficulty

“And my righteous ones will live by faith.
    But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.”

But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved. – Hebrews 10:38-29 NLT

The context in Hebrews is that of believers who are facing difficulty but who must keep their faith focused on the promise of God.

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. – Hebrews 10:35-26 NLT

For Habakkuk, the immediate future looked bleak and foreboding. God’s pronouncement that He was sending the Babylonians as His instruments of judgment had left Habakkuk stunned. But God was calling His prophet to remain faithful, trusting that the divine plan would have a happy ending.

But God knew that Habakkuk was having a difficult time getting his mind off of the thought that the Babylonians were going to come out as victors over God’s people. That was more than he could handle. Which is why God assured him:

Wealth is treacherous,
    and the arrogant are never at rest.
They open their mouths as wide as the grave,
    and like death, they are never satisfied.
In their greed they have gathered up many nations
    and swallowed many peoples. – Habakkuk 2:5 NLT

Things are not always as they seem. The success of the wicked, while difficult to understand and even harder to witness, is not the final chapter in the story. The Babylonians would become wealthy and powerful. They would conquer many nations and enrich themselves with the spoils of war. But God wanted Habakkuk to know that He had already written the final chapter of their story. And in the following verses, God will provide Habakkuk with a glimpse into Babylon’s fate.

As bad as things appeared to be, all was not lost. God had a plan. And the futures of Babylon and Judah were part of that plan. But when the coming days became filled with darkness and despair, the righteous would need to live by faith, not fear.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When God’s Ways Escape Us

12 Are you not from everlasting,
    O Lord my God, my Holy One?
    We shall not die.
O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment,
    and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.
13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
    and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
    and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
    the man more righteous than he?
14 You make mankind like the fish of the sea,
    like crawling things that have no ruler.
15 He 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.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
    and makes offerings to his dragnet;
for by them he lives in luxury,
    and his food is rich.
17 Is he then to keep on emptying his net
    and mercilessly killing nations forever? Habakkuk 1:12-17 ESV

Habakkuk questioned God and the Almighty responded. But the answer Habakkuk received was not what he had hoped for, and in these verses, you can see he is desperately trying to reconcile the divine pronouncement with what he understood about God.

After hearing God announce that the Babylonians worship strength as their deity of choice, Habakkuk declares “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One” (Habakkuk 1:12 ESV). This statement seems to be partially a confident assertion of Yahweh’s unique status as the one true, eternal God of the universe, and an attempt by Habakkuk to shame God into doing something about Judah’s predicament. After declaring God’s holiness and eternality, the prophet states: “We shall not die.” 

While this appears as a statement in the English Standard Version, I believe the New Living Translation provides a more accurate rendering of the original intent behind Habakkuk’s words.

O Lord my God, my Holy One, you who are eternal—
    surely you do not plan to wipe us out? – Habakkuk 1:12 NLT

Habakkuk had been seeking God’s intervention but had been expecting Him to deal with the wicked who were causing all the trouble in Judah. He never dreamed that God would use a pagan nation and its godless king as His chosen instrument of judgment. And God had warned Habakkuk that what He had planned for Judah would be a shock to the senses.

“I am doing something in your own day,
    something you wouldn’t believe
    even if someone told you about it.” – Habakkuk 1:5 NLT

Now that Habakkuk knew God’s plans, he was concerned as to the extent of the judgment. Would it be complete, bringing an end to the nation of Judah. He had seen what had happened to the northern kingdom of Israel when it fell to the Assyrians. They ceased to exist as a nation. Their land was devastated, their cities and towns were destroyed, and the people were taken into captivity or left to live in abject poverty. Was that God’s plan for Judah?

Habakkuk could handle the thought of God sending the Babylonians as a form of reprimand and reproof.

O Lord, our Rock, you have sent these Babylonians to correct us,
    to punish us for our many sins.
– Habakkuk 1:12 NLT

He knew that he and his people deserved God’s punishment and he understood that God had chosen to deliver it by means of the Babylonians. But his concept of God made it difficult for him to accept the logic behind God’s plan.

But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil.
    Will you wink at their treachery?
Should you be silent while the wicked
    swallow up people more righteous than they? – Habakkuk 1:13 NLT

To Habakkuk’s way of thinking, this was only making matters worse. If you recall, in his opening statement to God, Habakkuk had described the sorry state of affairs in Judah, declaring, “The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted” (Habakkuk 1:4 NLT). As far as Habakkuk was concerned, Judah had more wicked people than they knew what to do with. He had been asking God to do something about the wicked living in his own country. Now God had announced that He was going to use the wicked Babylonians as His instruments of judgment. That made no sense. It was like throwing gasoline on a fire in a vain attempt to douse the flames.

To Habakkuk, God’s plan seemed like an overreaction to the problem – a literal form of overkill. And the prophet is not shy in sharing his concerns with God.

Are we only fish to be caught and killed?
    Are we only sea creatures that have no leader?
Must we be strung up on their hooks
    and caught in their nets while they rejoice and celebrate? – Habakkuk 1:14-15 NLT

Submitting to the righteous judgment of God was one thing. But having to endure that judgment at the hands of pagan Babylonians was something different altogether, and the thought of it left Habakkuk in a state of confusion and consternation. And just in case God didn’t understand the problem with His plan, Habakkuk attempted to inform Him. Knowing that Yahweh hated idolatry in any form, Habakkuk warns that any victory by the Babylonians over the chosen people of God will be followed by worship of their false gods. It will rob God of glory and give the appearance that He has been defeated by the gods of Babylon.

Then they will worship their nets
    and burn incense in front of them.
“These nets are the gods who have made us rich!”
    they will claim. – Habakkuk 1:16 NLT

This was too much for Habakkuk to comprehend. If this was the divine plan, Habakkuk wanted to know how long God was going to let it go on. Would the Babylonians destroy God’s people and enjoy uninterrupted rule over that part of the world?

Will you let them get away with this forever?
    Will they succeed forever in their heartless conquests? – Habakkuk 1:17 NLT

As usual, Habakkuk was operating with a limited perspective. As a mere human, he had no capacity to understand the mind of God. He couldn’t look into the future and see the outcome of God’s divine strategy for Judah’s rebuke and eventual restoration. He had no way of knowing how God would eventually punish the Babylonians for their part in Judah’s demise.

Habakkuk was a prophet of God, but that did not mean he understood the will and the ways of God. Like any other man, he was dependent upon Yahweh to provide him with divine insights and even the words to speak. The extent of his knowledge was solely dependent upon what the Almighty determined to share.  And in most cases, the prophets were all required to operate on limited data, restricted to sharing only that which God had chosen to reveal. But in time, God would divulge the rest of His plan, providing His prophets with a clearer understanding of His strategy in its entirety.

Concerning the Babylonians and Habakkuk’s worry that their global domination would be permanent, God revealed His plans for them to the prophet Jeremiah.

“You rejoice and are glad,
    you who plundered my chosen people.
You frisk about like a calf in a meadow
    and neigh like a stallion.
But your homeland will be overwhelmed
    with shame and disgrace.
You will become the least of nations—
    a wilderness, a dry and desolate land.
Because of the Lord’s anger,
    Babylon will become a deserted wasteland.
All who pass by will be horrified
    and will gasp at the destruction they see there.” – Jeremiah 50:11-13 NLT

God had plans for the Babylonians. Yes, those plans included their role as God’s agents of judgment upon the people of Judah. But those plans also included the ultimate destruction of the Babylonians for their willful participation in Judah’s subjugation and suffering. God would eventually repay Babylon for its wickedness and wanton destruction. And Habakkuk is going to learn of God’s plan for Babylon in the very next chapter.

Because you have plundered many nations,
    now all the survivors will plunder you.
You committed murder throughout the countryside
    and filled the towns with violence. – Habakkuk 2:8 NLT

One of the benefits of reading Scripture is that we get a glimpse into God’s sovereignty and man’s constant attempt to make sense of the Almighty’s ways. Even the prophets of God wrestled with the ways of God. The Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day found it impossible to understand what God was doing in their midst. He had sent His Son as their Messiah but these learned men failed to recognize Jesus as who He truly was. Jesus even accused them of missing the forest for the trees.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” – John 5:39-40 NLT

They were knowledgeable of God’s Word but remained ignorant of God’s will. They enjoyed an encyclopedic understanding of God’s law but failed to understand that the law could not provide them with salvation. It could convict of sin but had no capacity to provide escape from the condemnation of sin. Only Jesus could do that.

Habakkuk was operating on limited information. And each time God revealed another aspect of His divine plan, the prophet found himself trying to reconcile God’s version of reality with his own. But part of being a child of God is learning to trust our heavenly Father’s ways. Habakkuk had been right when he said, “Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One” (Habakkuk 1:12 ESV). He recognized God’s holiness and transcendence, but now he was having to come to grips with God’s sovereign will over all things, including Judah’s judgment and the Babylonian’s role in it.

Learning to trust God is a big part of choosing to follow Him. We don’t always know where He is leading us. We won’t always understand what He is doing around us. The circumstances of life will not always appear just and fair. There will be times when He appears distant or disinterested in what is happening in our lives. But God is always there and His plan for us is perfect and unstoppable. We may not always understand His ways, but we can always trust in His will. And, in the meantime, we can express the words of the apostle Paul.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! – Romans 11:33 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not What You Expected

“Look 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.
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
    that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
    to seize dwellings not their own.
They are dreaded and fearsome;
    their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
Their 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.
They all come for violence,
    all their faces forward.
    They gather captives like sand.
10 At kings they scoff,
    and at rulers they laugh.
They laugh at every fortress,
    for they pile up earth and take it.
11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on,
    guilty men, whose own might is their god!” Habakkuk 1:5-11 ESV

Habakkuk had two questions for God: How long and why? But from Habakkuk’s earth-bound perspective, it appeared that God was unresponsive uncaring. The prophet found himself surrounded by destruction, violence, injustice, and iniquity. The law of God was treated with total disregard and the wicked among the people of Judah seemed to outnumber the righteous. In essence, Habakkuk was demanding to know what God was going to do about it all.

And in verses 5-11, he records the long-awaited response from God. Yet, the answer he received from the Almighty must have left him a bit surprised and disappointed. It’s safe to say that what Habakkuk heard God say was not what he had been expecting. When Habakkuk had uttered his opening prayer to God, it had been in the form of a lament, a desperate cry of help to God asking that He intervene and provide salvation.

But instead, God delivers a promise of coming judgment. While Habakkuk had been under the impression that God had not heard his cries or heeded his pleas for help, the truth was that God already had a plan in place. But God warned Habakkuk that the nature of His plan would be inconceivable and implausible to Habakkuk.

“Look 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.” – Habakkuk 1:5 ESV

While Habakkuk’s opening prayer had focused on the state of affairs in Judah, God revealed that He had a much bigger agenda in mind that would include foreign powers and pagan nations as His instruments of judgment.

“For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
    that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
    to seize dwellings not their own.” – Habakkuk 1:6 ESV

The term, “Chaldean” was a reference to the Babylonian Empire. God was telling Habakkuk that the solution to Judah’s problem was going to come in the form of a pagan nation that would rise to power and dominate the Middle East. And don’t miss God’s declaration that He would be the one who raised up this new superpower. Their ascension to world dominance would be the work of God, not men. And yet, God describes them as bitter, hasty, dreaded, and fearsome. They are violent and fierce, devouring everything in their path and “are notorious for their cruelty and do whatever they like” (Habakkuk 1:7 NLT).

This alarming news must have left Habakkuk in a state of shock. How could this be the answer to Judah’s problem? What possible good could come from God raising up a godless and bloodthirsty nation to set their greedy sights on the land of promise? None of this would have made sense to Habakkuk. And yet, God warned that He was “doing a work” in their day that would be unprecedented and unparalleled. The entire region was going to feel the wrath of God as He brought judgment upon them for their pride, arrogance, and failure to recognize Him as the one true God. He had warned the King of Tyre that judgment was coming.

“Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
Because you think you are as wise as a god,
   I will now bring against you a foreign army,
    the terror of the nations.
They will draw their swords against your marvelous wisdom
    and defile your splendor!” – Ezekiel 28:6-7 NLT

Even the great nation of Egypt would suffer the judgment of God in the form of Babylonian aggression.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
By the power of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon,
    I will destroy the hordes of Egypt.
He and his armies—the most ruthless of all—
    will be sent to demolish the land.
They will make war against Egypt
    until slaughtered Egyptians cover the ground.” – Ezekiel 30:10-11 NLT

God was letting Habakkuk know that He was sovereign over all the nations. All kings and countries answered to Him. They were at His beck and call, serving at His whim and completely subservient to His sovereign will. Years later, the prophet Daniel, living in captivity in Babylon and serving in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar himself, would pray a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Faced with a possible death sentence if he failed to interpret the king’s dream, Daniel had received its meaning directly from God in a dream. And he expressed his gratitude to God for His sovereign power and protection.

“Praise the name of God forever and ever,
    for he has all wisdom and power.
He controls the course of world events;
    he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the scholars.
He reveals deep and mysterious things
    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,
    though he is surrounded by light.
– Daniel 2:20-22 NLT

The thought that God would use a Gentile nation to punish His own people was inconceivable to Habakkuk and the people of Judah. To the prophets’ warning that God was bringing judgment against them, the people of Judah had responded with scorn and ridicule.

“He won’t bother us!
No disasters will come upon us.
    There will be no war or famine.
God’s prophets are all windbags
    who don’t really speak for him.
    Let their predictions of disaster fall on themselves!” – Jeremiah 5:12-13 NLT

The leaders of Judah vehemently denied the prophetic warnings, declaring them to be lies. False prophets countered the message of God’s spokesmen, promising peace rather than judgment.

“From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT

The people of Judah were convinced that their status as God’s chosen people and the presence of the temple of God were protections against any pending judgment. As long as they kept offering sacrifices as God had commanded, they would be safe. Or so they thought.

“Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, ‘We are safe!’—only to go right back to all those evils again?” – Jeremiah 7:9-10 NLT

God had warned the people of Israel that there would be consequences for their failure to keep their covenant agreement with Him. Long before they ever set foot in the land of promise, Moses had delivered to them God’s ultimatum regarding blessings and curses. If they chose to be unfaithful, they would suffer the consequences.

“You will watch as your sons and daughters are taken away as slaves…A foreign nation you have never heard about will eat the crops you worked so hard to grow…The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you.” – Deuteronomy 28:32, 33, 36- 37 NLT

Now, after centuries marked by disobedience and disregard for the laws of God, the nation of Judah was facing the same fate as their brothers and sisters to the north. The ten tribes that formed the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians years earlier. They had been taken captive and their cities and towns had been left destroyed and their land, devastated. But the southern kingdom of Judah had learned nothing from watching the demise of their northern neighbors. They still thought they were immune and under divine protection.

But God warns that the Babylonians would destroy everything in their path. There would be no walls high enough and no armies strong enough to halt their advance or prevent their God-ordained destruction of the land of Judah.

“They scoff at kings and princes
    and scorn all their fortresses.
They simply pile ramps of earth
    against their walls and capture them!” – Habakkuk 1:10 NLT

Yet, in spite of their apparent success, God would hold the Babylonians accountable for their actions. Yes, He would use them to accomplish His divine will, but that would not absolve them from their guilt. They would be operating under the impression that they were in full control of their actions, answerable to no one but themselves.

“They sweep past like the wind
    and are gone.
But they are deeply guilty,
    for their own strength is their god.” – Habakkuk 1:11 NLT

Oblivious to the sovereign hand of God, Nebuchadnezzar and his forces would view their victories as having been man-made, not God-ordained. But after having successfully fulfilled the will of God concerning the people of Judah, God would judge Babylon for its role in their demise.

When Habakkuk had asked God, “How long?” and “Why?” this was not the answer he expected or wanted. But God’s ways are not our ways. His plans rarely line up with our preconceived ideas. But He is always faithful, right, and just in all that He does. His ways are righteous. His plans are perfect. As King David expressed in his psalm: “The LORD is righteous in everything he does” (Psalm 145:17 NLT). We may not understand or even like His ways. We may have a difficult time believing His will for us is best for us. But in time, we will see that God’s ways, while hard to understand, are motivated by His love, mercy, and grace.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Our Limited Perspective Can’t Limit God

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted. Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV

Habakkuk refers to his message as an “oracle.” The Hebrew word is massa’ and it means “burden” or “that which is carried.” It was often used to refer to the carrying of a tribute or gift to be presented to a king or other high official. What makes Habakkuk’s book unique among all the other prophetic writings is that he is delivering a message to God, rather than speaking on behalf of God to the people of Judah. In the case of many of the other prophets, they struggled with their task of delivering God’s message of judgment, desiring instead to see their people repent and be restored. The prophet Jeremiah wept over the fate of his people.

If only my head were a pool of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears,
I would weep day and night
    for all my people who have been slaughtered. – Jeremiah 9:1 NLT

But in the case of Habakkuk, he opens his “oracle” by carrying his burden to the throne of God and delivering his message of confusion and consternation concerning the Almighty’s failure to bring judgment upon the people of Judah. He complains to God that his cries have gone unheard and unanswered. He accuses God of refusing to do something about all the violence and wickedness taking place in Judah. Habakkuk paints himself as a suffering servant of God, having to put up with all the “destruction and violence” and “strife and contention” taking place around him (Habakkuk 1:3 ESV).

So, this is not your average, run-of-the-mill prophetic book.

“Habakkuk is a unique book. Unlike other prophets who declared God’s message to people this prophet dialogued with God about people. Most Old Testament prophets proclaimed divine judgment. Habakkuk pleaded for divine judgment. In contrast with the typical indictment, this little book records an intriguing interchange between a perplexed prophet and his Maker.” – Ronald J. Blue, “Habakkuk.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament

Habakkuk’s opening prayer is a lament and echoes the sentiments found in many of the psalms.

O Lord, why do you stand so far away?
    Why do you hide when I am in trouble?
The wicked arrogantly hunt down the poor.
    Let them be caught in the evil they plan for others. – Psalm 10:1-2 NLT

Arise, O Lord!
    Punish the wicked, O God!
    Do not ignore the helpless!
Why do the wicked get away with despising God? – Psalm 10:12-13 NLT

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand? – Psalm 13:1-2 NLT

And while Habakkuk was unique among the prophets, he was not the only one who wondered how long God would delay before He dealt a decisive blow to the wicked.

How long must this land mourn?
    Even the grass in the fields has withered.
The wild animals and birds have disappeared
    because of the evil in the land.
For the people have said,
    “The Lord doesn’t see what’s ahead for us!” – Jeremiah 12:4 NLT

Upon hearing this, the angel of the Lord prayed this prayer: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, for seventy years now you have been angry with Jerusalem and the towns of Judah. How long until you again show mercy to them?” – Zechariah 1:12 NLT

From Habakkuk’s perspective, God had been irritatingly silent and non-responsive. The prophet had repeatedly cried out to God, informing Him of the violence and injustice taking place among the people of Judah. Conflict and strife were everywhere. The law had become impotent and incapable of delivering justice when needed. The courts and the judges were not doing their jobs. And Habakkuk complained that “The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted” (Habakkuk 1:4 NLT).

The problem was getting worse, not better. And Habakkuk not-so-subtly accuses God of inaction and apparent indifference. His question, “How long?” was essentially the same as asking God, “When are you going to do something about all this?” Habakkuk was demanding action. He wanted to see results. He was fed up with the current state of affairs in Judah and was expecting God to do something about it.

This opening prayer reflects Habakkuk’s distress and despair over the spiritual condition of his nation. Things were not as they were supposed to be. Six different times in his book, Habakkuk will refer to the violence taking place in Judah. This is not just a reference to the physical harm committed by one person against another. The Hebrew word is chamac and has a much broader meaning. It includes physical violence, but also injustice, oppression, and cruelty. Someone committing chamac was guilty of violating the moral law. They were willingly breaking established ethical standards.

Habakkuk’s frustration seems to be based on the lack of divine intervention. Because it appeared that God was doing nothing about these moral indiscretions and abuses of the Mosaic Law, the people were getting bolder and more blatant in their disregard for God’s standards. From Habakkuk’s limited earthly perspective, it appeared that God’s silence was encouraging further violence among the people. They were getting cocky and arrogant, emboldened by their assumption that God was not going to do anything about their actions. The psalmist took his concerns to God as well, sharing a similar frustration with how God’s inaction was causing the wicked to become increasingly bolder and blatant in their sinful actions.

How long, O Lord?
    How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat?
How long will they speak with arrogance?
    How long will these evil people boast?
They crush your people, Lord,
    hurting those you claim as your own.
They kill widows and foreigners
    and murder orphans.
“The Lord isn’t looking,” they say,
    “and besides, the God of Israel doesn’t care.”  – Psalm 94:3-7 NLT

It’s all about perspective. The psalmist and Habakkuk were both limited by their earth-bound viewpoint. They could not see into heaven and, therefore, had no idea what God was doing. They could only judge by what they saw taking place around them. Not only that, but these men were also incapable of seeing into the future. They had no way of looking beyond the immediate conditions in which they lived. The present was all they knew because they were temporal, time-bound creatures who had no capacity to see what God had planned.

Habakkuk was demanding answers and action. He wanted to see results – right here, right now. You can sense the frustration he felt and his impatience with God is evident in the tone of his prayer.

“…you will not save!”

“…you will not hear!”

“…you make me see iniquity!”

“…do you idly look at wrong!”

Those are strong words and the apostle Paul would lovingly warn Habakkuk, “Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God?” (Romans 9:20 NLT). Habakkuk was guilty of questioning the integrity and intentions of God. It wasn’t that he lacked faith in God or that he felt God was incapable of doing anything about the situation in Judah. He wasn’t questioning whether God could do something but was simply wanting to know when He would.

But Habakkuk was going to learn that God was not obligated to operate according to his timeline. The Almighty was not answerable to Habakkuk, but God was going to respond to His disgruntled prophet. Yet, what He had to say would convey a message of coming judgment, not salvation. God was going to respond to the injustice in Judah with His own brand of justice. He was going to deal with the violence and moral corruption of His people by bringing His righteous wrath to bear.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Ways of God

1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. Habakkuk 1:1 ESV

This rather obscure little Old Testament book has an equally obscure author. We know very little about Habakkuk, other than his role as a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah during the days before the nation was judged by God, defeated by the Babylonians, and sent into exile. Thus, he is what is known as a pre-exilic prophet. His primary job was to warn God’s people of His pending judgment and to call them to repentance.

The book is comprised of a unique combination of poetry and prose, revealing Habakkuk as a poet as well as a prophet. And, like all the other prophets of God, Habakkuk was not intended to be the focus of the book that bears his name. He was a spokesman for God Almighty, tasked with delivering His divine warning of imminent judgment against God’s chosen people for their sins against Him.

It seems likely that Habakkuk prophesied during the reign of King Jehoiakim (609-598 B.C.). His prophetic ministry covered a period of time when Judah was in a steep spiritual decline following the death of Josiah, the great reformer king. Josiah was one of the few kings of either Israel or Judah who proved faithful to God. When he had ascended to the throne of Judah, he inherited a spiritually bankrupt legacy passed down by his father Manasseh.

Manasseh…did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. – 2 Kings 21:1-2 ESV

He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. – 2 Kings 21:6 ESV

Manasseh turned the people of Judah against God, erecting shrines and high places to false gods all throughout the nation. He even placed “the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord” (2 Kings 21:7 ESV). On top of that, Manasseh followed the practices of the pagan nations, instituting child sacrifice as a part of their worship. He was so wicked that the author of 2 Kings states, “Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel” (2 Kings 21:9 ESV).

And God pronounced His judgment against Manasseh, warning that his behavior was going to have dire consequences.

Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria, and the plumb line of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies, and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies, because they have done what is evil in my sight and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came out of Egypt, even to this day.” – 2 Kings 21:11-15 ESV

Eventually, Manasseh died and his son, Amon took his place on the throne. He followed in his father’s footsteps, continuing his legacy of idolatry and apostasy. But his reign was shortlived, lasting only two years before he was assassinated by his own servants. He was succeeded by his son Josiah who, at the age of eight, was given the responsibility of leading a nation who had turned its back on God. But for the next 31 years, Josiah would prove to be a royal anomaly, leading the nation of Judah in a period of unprecedented spiritual renewal and revival.

…he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left. – 2 Kings 22:2 ESV

Josiah instituted a series of reforms designed to restore the nation’s allegiance to Yahweh. He ordered repairs to the much-neglected temple. He recommitted the nation to keep the law of God. He razed all the high places and pagan shrines dedicated to the false gods of the Canaanites. And finally, he reinstituted the annual celebration of Passover. These initiatives set Josiah apart from all his predecessors, establishing him as an example of faithfulness and righteousness.

Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. – 2 Kings 23:25 ESV

But despite all of his efforts, Josiah’s reforms made little impact on the hearts of the people of Judah. God knew that nothing had really changed and His plans for dealing with the sins of Manasseh remained unaltered because the people remained unfaithful.

Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. – 2 Kings 23:26 ESV

Josiah was eventually killed in combat by Egyptian forces and replaced as king by his son Jehoahaz. But his reign would last only three months before Neco, the Pharaoh of Egypt, removed him from power and replaced him with his brother, Jehoiakim. For the next 11 years, Jehoiakim would rule over Judah, emulating his father’s evil ways and continuing the nation’s downward spiritual spiral. All the reforms of Josiah would be neglected and the idolatrous practices of Manasseh would be restored.

he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. – 2 Kings 23:37 ESV

And it was during this dark period of Judah’s history that Habakkuk received his prophetic call from God. It was accompanied by the rise of the nation of Babylon, a powerful pagan people who were slowly replacing the Assyrians as the force to be reckoned with in the region. While the Assyrians had already conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and taken a large contingent of their people into captivity, they would soon find their 15-minutes of fame coming to an abrupt end. In 605 B.C., the Babylonians defeated a combined army of Egyptians and Assyrians at the battle of Carchemish, establishing themselves as the major power in the ancient Near East. The book of 2 Kings reveals that the Babylonians soon relegated Judah’s status in the region as that of a vassal state.

In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done… – 2 Kings 24:1-3 ESV

Jehoiakim’s reign would last 11 years, with the final three years marked by subservience to the Babylonians. But long before the Babylonians came to prominence and power, God would use Habakkuk to warn of their coming.

For I am doing something in your own day,
    something you wouldn’t believe
    even if someone told you about it.
I am raising up the Babylonians,
    a cruel and violent people.
They will march across the world
    and conquer other lands. – Habakkuk 1:5-6 NLT

While Jehoiakim and the people of Judah were busy turning their backs on God, He was planning their judgment. And what God was going to do would come as a complete surprise to the people of Judah. They had no way of knowing about Babylon’s rise to power. In their minds, it was the Assyrians who were the major threat to their well-being. But God had something else in store. While they continued to place their hope and trust in false gods, Yahweh was planning His righteous retribution for their blatant violation of their covenant commitment to Him.

One of the things that the book of Habakkuk will reveal is the prophet’s struggle with God’s ways. He was commissioned to speak on God’s behalf, but he didn’t fully comprehend what it was that God was doing. Even as a prophet, he was confused as to why God would choose to use a pagan nation to punish the chosen people of God. To Habakkuk, the plans God had for Judah’s demise seemed unfair and uncharacteristic of His covenant commitment to them. While Habakkuk was fully aware of Judah’s wickedness, his national pride made it difficult for him to understand what God was doing. So, part of the book contains his questions to God. In fact, verse two opens up with the words, “O Lord, how long?”

But God wanted Habakkuk to know what Isaiah the prophet had come to understand.

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
    and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
    Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:6-9 NLT

Habakkuk may not have understood what God was doing, but he would eventually to learn to trust His ways.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson