Habakkuk’s Second Complaint (con’t), v1
Hab 2:1 I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
Habakkuk has finished his defence, and now waits to here what God will say. His experience in this chapter is like that of Asaph in Psa 73.
At least part of his motivation was to seek an explanation that, as a prophet, he could pass on to his audience. He was soon to realise that ‘the near future would lack visibly manifest reasons to believe, leaving only faith in God’s promise.’ (DOT)
I will stand at my watch – ‘The prophet’s standing upon his tower, or high place, intimates his prudence, in making use of the helps and means he had within his reach to know the mind of God, and to be instructed concerning it. Those that expect to hear from God must withdraw from the world, and get above it, must raise their attention, fix their thought, study the scriptures, consult experiences and the experienced, continue instant in prayer, and thus set themselves upon the tower. His standing upon his watch intimates his patience, his constancy and resolution; he will wait the time, and weather the point, as a watchman does, but he will have an answer; he will know what God will say to him, not only for his own satisfaction, but to enable him as a prophet to give satisfaction to others, and answer their exceptions, when he is reproved or argued with. Herein the prophet is an example to us.’ (MHC)
‘In ancient days, the watchmen were responsible to warn the city of approaching danger, and if they werent faithful, their hands would be stained with the blood of the people who died.’ (Eze 3:17-21 33:1-3) (Wiersbe)
‘How noble a faculty of the soul is the understanding! It can compass the earth; it can measure the sun, moon, stars, and heaven; it can foreknow each eclipse to a minute, many years before. But this is the top of all its excellency, that it can know God, who is infinite, who made all these – a little here, and more, much more hereafter.’ (Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, 30.)
‘The tower is the recess of the mind; but how can we ascend to it? even by following the word of the Lord. For we creep on the earth; nay, we find that our flesh ever draws us downward: except then the truth from above becomes to us as it were wings, or a ladder, or a vehicle, we cannot rise up one foot; but, on the contrary, we shall seek refuges on the earth rather than ascend into heaven. But let the word of God become our ladder, or our vehicle, or our wings, and, however difficult the ascent may be, we shall yet be able to fly upward, provided God’s word be allowed to have its own authority. We hence see how unsuitable is the view of those interpreters, who think that the tower and the citadel is the word of God; for it is by God’s word, as I have already said, that we are raised up to this citadel, that is, to the safeguard of hope; where we may remain safe and secure while looking down from this eminence on those things which disturb us and darken all our senses as long as we lie on the earth.’ (Calvin)
‘We can form no judgement of God’s providence, except by the light of celestial truth. It is hence no wonder that many fall away under trials, yea, almost the whole world; for few there are who ascend into the citadel of which the Prophet speaks, and who are willing to hear God speaking to them. Hence, presumption and arrogance blind the minds of men, so that they either speak evil of God who addresses them, or accuse fortune, or maintain that there is nothing certain: thus they murmur within themselves, and arrogate to themselves more than they ought, and never submit to God’s word.’ (Calvin)
‘The news about the Babylonian onslaught would raise serious questions in Jerusalem (Hab 1:5b), and Habakkuk had no words of his own to offer. He had to wait (cf. Jer 42:1–7).’ (DOT)
Pr 9:10 Jer 31:34 Hab 2:14 Jn 17:3
This verse emphasises both the human and divine elements: God must speak, but the prophet must position himself to hear. Are we prepared to wait until God speaks and acts?
The Lord’s Answer, 2-20
Hab 2:2 Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.”
“Write down the revelation” – ‘so that it might be preserved and transmitted, since its message will not take immediate effect (cf. Isa. 30:8).’ (Baker, TOTC)
That the prophets on occasion wrote down oracles also is clear from Isa 30:8 Jer 25:13 29:1 30:2 36:1-32 51:60-64 Eze 43:11 Hab 2:2 Dan 7:1 2 Chron 21:12.
‘He must write it, that he might imprint it on his own mind, and make it more clear to himself, but especially that it might be notified to those in distant places and transmitted to those in future ages. What is handed down by tradition is easily mistaken and liable to corruption; but what is written is reduced to a certainty, and preserved safe and pure.’ (MHC)
Make it plain – ‘Those who are employed in preaching the word of God should study plainness as much as may be, so as to make themselves intelligible to the meanest capacities.’ (MHC)
So that a herald may run with it – ‘The debated meanings of “run” include the following: even one running can read it; one who reads will run in terror; one who reads will live by it; the reader’s eye will run easily over it. The point is that the message may be easily understood.’ (DOT)
The traditional interpretation seems best: make the message plain enough so the person running (Hb. participle) may read the message. The GNB supports this interpretation with the reading “so that it can be read at a glance.” “In this respect it would be like a large modern advertisement beside a main road.” (NAC, quoting Clark and Hatton).
‘It was the custom in Habakkuk’s time and place to erect tablets, probably of wood, in public places, so that notices of general interest and importance could be fixed to them. This method of publication is still common in Asia, particularly China. We are all accustomed to advertising hoardings and informal graffiti, and we can imagine, for example, a succession of large notices along the main road into Jerusalem or round the marketplace, each carrying a key phrase from the text of Habakkuk’s vision in these chapters.’ (Prior)
Prior points out that the meaning is not so much, ‘that he who runs may read’, as, ‘that he who reads may run.’ ‘Everyone who reads or hears these words is to consider himself a herald of a significant communication intended for all people everywhere.’ (Patterson)
The record was to be permanent (written ‘on tablets’), plain, and public: all necessary, in the light of the ‘lingering’ mentioned in the next verse.
Hab 2:3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.
An appointed time – ‘God’s purpose is unfolding sequentially and in order in the course of historical events. History is not cyclical, a constant recurrence of events in futile repetition, but rather it is linear. It is moving towards the goal of the Day of the Lord and the establishment of God’s kingdom. Specific historical events or appointed moments such as this are especially significant in the progression towards this final objective. Though this message of God might not reach fruition immediately, Habakkuk is certain that it will take effect at the time of God’s own choosing.’ (Baker, TOTC)
“The end” – or, ‘fulfilment’. This phrase has a double meaning. It refers, firstly, to the end of Babylonion domination and the reurn of the exiles. But it looks forward, secondly, to the final victory of God, 1 Cor 15:24-26.
“Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and not delay” – ‘God’s tardiness is largely an illusion, for God does not regard or experience time as mere mortals do. He is above and outside time. (Ps 90:4) Moreover, the delay in the final judgement is due to his patience, and his wish that sinners should find salvation, 2 Pet 3:3-10. ‘From our perspective, the time is running out…; But God is on course and on time.’ (Prior)
‘The repeated emphasis on timing brings home the gulf between our perception and God ‘s perception of time. Habakkuk, like ourselves, wanted God to act at once. God’s time is not necessarily ours. Just as, in human affairs and planning, timing is fundamental, so it is with God’s purposes.’ (Prior)
‘Whether in prayer or prophecy, contemporary worshipers demand that God act according to the dizzying schedule of those pressed for time. God reminded the prophet of the certainty of the message but without the promise of meeting Habakkuk’s time schedule.’ (NAC)
‘The world is not as God intended it, and God is setting it right. God’s purpose cannot be thwarted (cf. Isa 55:10–11); it is speeding toward its completion. Indeed, those actions of God that seem to reverse his march toward his goal—as the Babylonian conquest of Judah seemed to Habakkuk to reverse that march (Hab 1:12–17)—may not be reversals at all but integral parts of God’s purpose to save his earth. Certainly Luke (Lk 21:24), Paul (Rom 9:22–24), and the author of 2 Peter (2 Pet 3:9) were sure that was true.’ (Achtemeier)
‘God has an appointed time for his appointed work, and will be sure to do the work when the time comes; it is not for us to anticipate his appointments, but to wait his time. And it is a great encouragement to wait with patience, that, though the promised favour be deferred long, it will come at last, and be an abundant recompence to us for our waiting: At the end it shall speak and not lie. We shall not be disappointed of it, for it will come at the time appointed; nor shall we be disappointed in it, for it will fully answer our believing expectations. The promise may seem silent a great while, but at the end it shall speak; and therefore, though it tarry longer than we expected, yet we must continue waiting for it, being assured it will come, and willing to tarry until it does come.’ (MHC)
Hab 2:4 “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright-but the righteous will live by his faith-“
“He” – The identity is not specified, but this would appear to refer to the wicked of Hab 1:7,11,13.
“Puffed up” – contrasts with faithfulness. It harks back to Hab 1:7, “a law to themselves”, and Hab 1:11, “whose own strength is their god”.
It is ‘reliance on one’s own self or personal resources to secure and sustain one’s life.’ (Achtemeier)
‘Wherever human beings rely on something of this earth—whether it be intellectual achievement or wealth or military might or aesthetic ability and appreciation or pride of birth and status or even the ability to cope and solve problems and master the complexities of modern life—wherever confidence is placed in human prowess and not in God for the achievement of a satisfying and secure manner of living, there true life cannot be had.’ (Achtemeier)
His desires are not upright – Although a tool of judgment in God’s hands, the Babylonian is still responsible for his motives and actions. In contrast to the ‘life’ that will be enjoyed by the righteous, the (implied) end of the unrighteous is death (cf. the series of five ‘woes’, later).
“The righteous will live by his faith” – This is the phrase which ‘became the watchword of Christianity, is the key of the whole book of Habakkuk and is the central theme of all the Scriptures’ (Feinberg)
There are only three words in the Heb. – ‘The righteous by faith shall live.’
‘Those who are truly good, and whose hearts are upright with God, will value the promise, and venture their all upon it; and, in confidence of the truth of it, will keep close to God and duty in the most difficult trying times, and will then live comfortably in communion with God, dependence on him, and expectation of him.’ (MHC)
Is it ‘faith’, or ‘faithfulness’? The latter is probably more central to the original meaning. The NIV’s translation of ‘faith’ is probably influenced by the NT usage (NAC). However, ‘faith’ and ‘faithfulness’ are complementary ideas, especially in this context. ‘Faith’ trusts the promises of God, even in the light of apparently adverse circumstances and apparently long delays. ‘Faithfulness’ remains loyal to that same God, in the light of those same circumstances and delays. And both issue in ‘righteous’ attitudes and behaviours.
Note the contrast: whereas the proud Babylonian would fall, the righteous Israelite who lived by trust in God would live.
‘In canonical context, “living by faith” means believing the word of the Lord given through Habakkuk. It means commitment to the radical faith sung of in chapter three (Hab 3:17–19).’ (DOT)
This statement is quoted three times in the New Testament (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). Wiersbe remarks: ‘he emphasis in Romans is on the just, in Galatians on how they should live, and in Hebrews on faith. It takes three books to explain and apply this one verse!’
Here is ‘a shaft of pure light in the darkness of a violent, unjust and evil world.’ (Prior)
The righteous person is not perfect, but s/he is in a right relationship, and seeks to meet the demands of that relationship. For the ethical dimensions of this, see psa 15.
Live – ‘Faithfulness will bring life to the righteous. This is not simply physical existence, in contrast to the Babylonians who soon will fall. Special blessing is associated with the word in Dt. 30:19, where the life promised to Israel is associated with the land, which is now threatened by Babylon. Israel’s life and land will endure, while those of her mighty enemy will perish.’ (NBC)
‘While the odds might be strongly against them in the face of the seemingly all-powerful Babylon, God will vindicate his people by giving them life, both temporally (in contrast to the Babylonians who would soon disappear from the world stage, see p. 44), and eschatologically. In this context, therefore, the life promised is political and national, in contrast to the imminent national demise of the oppressor.’ (Baker, TOTC)
‘Habakkuk’s revelation emphasized the life-giving nature of God. He cares for his people even when he appears distant and uninvolved. Though the revelation may take what appears to be an agonizingly long time to appear, wait for it. God knows and cares for his people.’ (NAC)
Faith – Most English translations render the word thus, probably influenced by NT usage. But ‘faithfulness’ might be better, suggesting not simply ‘trust’, but ‘sincerity’, ‘loyalty’, and ‘reliability’. In context, it is (or at least, includes) a patient waiting for the Lord to fulfil his word.
There is enough ambiguity in the Hebrew to allow for various interpretations:-
- The righteous one will live by his faith(fulness)
- The righteous one will live by my (the Lord’s) faith(fulness)
- My righteous one will live by his faith(fulness)
2 and 3 are suggested by different LXX readings, and 3 appears to be the sense understood in Heb 10:38 (where ‘my righteous one’ would be the same as the ‘coming one’ implied in Heb 10:37). ‘The idea of an impending arrival is shared by Habakkuk and Hebrews, but the more general message of the former is personalized as the Messiah in the latter.’ (Baker, TOTC)
The word ‘faith’ is uncommon throughout the EVs of the OT (2 in AV, 18 in RSV, 16 in NIV – and these only agree at Hab 2:4). Much more common are expressions such as the ‘fear of God’, trust, and obedience. ‘The Hebrew denotes “firmness;” then, as an attribute of God, trustworthiness, unchangeable fidelity in the fulfilment of his promises; and, as an attribute of man, fidelity in word and deed; and, in his relation to God, form attachment to God, an undisturbed confidence in the promises of grace.’ (F.F. Bruce)
‘Faith in God was the key to consistent living, even though violence abounded and justice was perverted (Hab 1:2–4). That short statement helps believers to persevere even though God chastens them (Hab 1:5–11) and they cannot understand his ways (Hab 1:12–17). It provides a solution to the doubt they sometimes feel in His all-wise providence (Hab 2:1–3), and helps them to understand his righteous judgments (Hab 2:4–20). In the final analysis, faith provides the key to understanding the Lord’s sovereign purpose, and it leads men to worship (Hab 3:1–19).’ (Barber)
Faith(fulness) ‘is a type of behavior characterized by genuineness, reliability, and conscientiousness.’ (NAC)
‘Clearly the full Pauline meaning of faith is not to be found in this oft-quoted scripture; (cf. Rom 1:17 Gal 3:11 Heb 10:38) indeed, it is doubtful whether Pauline faith could have been expressed by any Heb. word. But the NT gives a legitimate development of the prophet’s thought through the medium of the LXX translation, pistis.’ (NBC)
‘In Romans 1:17 Paul discusses righteousness that is imputed or given by God (see niv) only on the basis of faith. This is the gospel, the good news which is open to all (Rom. 1:16), that because one believes God, persuaded that his covenant promises are reliable (see Hab. 2:4), one is considered righteous (see Rom. 3:22; 4:11, 13; 5:1 and elsewhere) and is granted life. The ambiguity of the referent of the righteousness remains in the grammatical construction in Romans, but the context makes clear that it is here a gift of God rather than an attribute of God; it does not characterize him here, but is rather bestowed by him.’ (Baker, TOTC)
‘In Galatians 3:11…Paul contrasts different possible sources of righteousness. Rather than self-righteousness, attempted through pious acts, namely ‘the law’ which justifies no-one (i.e. none are made righteous before God through observing it), the true source is faith, wholehearted commitment to the faithfulness of God. The referent is so clear that Paul does not even use a pronoun—it is simply faith, that of God’s child in him, that is efficacious.’ (Baker, TOTC)
Hebrews 11 constitutes a kind of commentary on this phrase.
‘The NT’s shades of meaning have been influenced by their use of the LXX rather than the Hebrew text. Paul in Rom 1:17 expresses the result of faith, with the Greek emphasis on intellectual commitment, which leads to righteousness. This is the first step into God’s kingdom – justification in God’s eyes through belief in the gospel of his Son. (cf. Rom 3:22 5:1) Gal 3:11 contrasts obedience to God as a legalistic requirement which cannot justify anyone to a faithful commitment to him resulting in the unearned gift of life. Heb 10:38 brings out the force of the call to persevere, living in faithful obedience to God’s will in times of personal trial. It adopts a possible Messianic reading of the LXX (‘my righteous one’). Another LXX reading speaks of God’s faithfulness, which could also be the reading of the Habakkuk passage. God’s people are urged to endure faithfully through the Babylonian oppression, for life will come, and God himself will be faithful to bring his message of deliverance and hope (2:2-3) to fruition.’ (NBC)
The Talmud records the saying of one of the rabbis that ‘Moses gave Israel 613 commandments, David reduced them to 10 Psa 15, Micah to three, (Mic 6:8) Isaiah to 2, (Isa 56:1) but Habakkuk to one: the righteous shall live by his faith.’
‘Judgement or salvation; price or faith; death or life; crookedness or righteousness; these are the ingredients and the alternatives described by God in the substance of the vision he gave the prophet. Habakkuk was to wait for it to reach the end. He could appreciate a proportion of the vision’s significance, that which applied to his own day. But there was more to it. That was why God told him to write down these words. Like the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures, ‘they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come’. (1 Cor 10:11) In Jesus Christ the end has come. The countdown has begun.’ (Prior)
This verse contains the answer to the dilemma posed in Hab 1:13: ‘the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he.’ No; the righteous will live by faith. ‘This vision, the accomplishment of which is so long waited for, will be such an exercise of faith and patience as will try and discover men what they are.’ (MHC)
The righteous have the courage to believe in God’s promise in a world full of violence. They are loyal to God in a world in which godlessmess seems to prevail. They are tenaceous in their determination to live according to God’s will (cf. Psa 15). They will stand in the day of judgment (cf. Psa 1).
‘Habakkuk’s revelation emphasized the life-giving nature of God. He cares for his people even when he appears distant and uninvolved. Though the revelation may take what appears to be an agonizingly long time to appear, wait for it. God knows and cares for his people.’ (NAC)
Hendriksen, in his commentary on Galatians, remarks that ‘the words “The righteous shall live by his faith” may even be considered the theme of Habakkuk’s prophecy. The divisions then would be: I. Faith tested: the prophet’s questions and Jehovah’s answers (chapters 1 and 2), and II. Faith strengthened by a vision shown in answer to the prophet’s prayer. What bothered Habakkuk was that it seemed as if wicked men were getting away with their wickedness. Jehovah apparently tolerated such evils as the exploitation of the needy, strife, contention, violence, etc. So the prophet begins to ask questions. He addresses these questions to Jehovah. He complains, objects, and waits for an answer. Habakkuk’s first question amounted to this, “Why does Jehovah allow the wicked in Judah to oppress the righteous?” Jehovah answers, “Evil-doers will be punished. The Chaldeans (Babylonians) are coming.” But this answer does not quite satisfy the prophet. So he asks another one, which was tantamount to this: “Why does Jehovah allow the Chaldeans to punish the Jews, who, at least are more righteous than these foreigners?” The prophet stations himself upon his watch-tower and awaits an answer. The answer arrives: “The Chaldeans, too, will be punished. In fact all sinners will be punished … but the righteous shall live by his faith.” It is his duty and privilege to trust, and to do this even then when he is not able to “figure out” the justice of Jehovah’s doings. In this humble trust and quiet confidence he shall truly live.’
Hab 2:5 indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest. Because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples.
‘From the general principle that injustice will be punished, v. 5 makes the application to the Chaldeans and emphasizes that their role as a tool of punishment for Yahweh is only temporary, the last word about them having not yet been spoken.… That they cannot, despite all infringements on the rights of others (Hab 1:13b–17), reach, much less maintain, their goal of controlling the world is the comfort for the prophet which must for the present satisfy him.’ (Rudolph)
Wine betrays him – Then, as now, a great deal of violence is associated with alcohol. Wine is associated ‘with arrogance, unfulfilled greed, and social injustice elsewhere in the OT (e.g., 1 Sam 30:16; 1 Sam 30:12, 16; Prov 31:4–7; Isa 5:11–12, 22–23; Amos 6:6).… indeed, the Babylonian regime was to be overthrown in just the circumstances of drunken pride portrayed here (cf. Dan 5:1–31)—such drunkenness being attested among ancient historians as characteristic of the Babylonians.’ (Armerding)
Babylon is associated with wine and drunkenness in Jer. 51:7; Dan. 5:1–30.
He is arrogant – See 4a.
He is as greedy as the grave and life death is never satisfied – Cf. Hab 1:13,15. Like the Assyrians before them, the Babylonians devoured nations not only by slaughter, but also taking multitudes into exile. In addition, the Babylonians brought other captives to live in the lands of those that had been deported. In this way, national identities had been all but obliterated.
‘The verse describes the arrogance of the Babylonians by looking back to the image of 1:13. Like death and the grave (Sheol), the Babylonians never have enough. Sheol often is pictured as being greedy, always enlarging itself to receive more of the dead. “Death never takes a holiday. The Babylonian, like death, continues to sweep the nations into his net (cf. Hab 1:15).”‘ (NAC, quoting Smith)
‘The Babylonians sought more and more nations to devour, taking captives away to Babylon. Babylon, like Assyria before it, practiced exiling captives to far-away lands. The Babylonians added to this brutal practice by bringing captives from other lands to occupy the lands of those deported to other places. Roberts correctly notes, “This is no benign gathering in of the scattered and oppressed as imperialistic propaganda might wish to portray it; rather, it is a devouring of the nations that would destroy their identities as they are absorbed into the body of the Babylonian empire.”‘ (NAC)
In all of this, God’s people can have faith in his faithfulness. Habakkuk did not know how or when God would resolve the matter, and put wrongs to right. But he learned that God is Lord of history, and that he is faithful to his people.
‘Though probably not in Habakkuk’s time frame or in Habakkuk’s way, God proved himself faithful. Long after Habakkuk’s lifetime and that of his audience, Babylon fell to Persia in 538 b.c. God is the Lord of history. He works in the world to defeat oppression and to deliver the oppressed. God showed himself ready to work on behalf of his people and to hear the needs of his people. Modern society seems even more complex and confusing than Habakkuk’s. In this modern age God is faithful to his people. He remains the Lord of history, working to bring all people to him in faith and obedience. His working in history may appear as mysterious and inconsistent to us as it did to Habakkuk. The answer is not in rejecting God or in disconnecting him from our history. The answer is in waiting for his timing to bring about his purposes. Such waiting calls for faithfulness in having faith.’ (NAC)
Hab 2:6 “Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying, “‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on?’
Hab 2:6-20 is a song of mockery placed in the mouths of those who have suffered at the hands of the Babylonians. It targets extortion, v6-8, the greedy and the arrogant, 9-11, violent crime, 12-14, debauchery, 15-17, and idolatry, v20. Each woe has elements of ‘invective (vv. 6, 9, 12, 15, 19a), threat (vv. 7, 11, 13, 16, 20), and criticism (vv. 8, 10, 14, 17–19b)’ (NAC, citing Patterson).
‘The second chapter’s five woes/taunts (Hab 2:6–20) imply Babylon’s future defeat of Jerusalem. After the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar secured a victory at Carchemish (605 bc), he retained Jehoiakim as his vassal until 601 bc, when Jehoiakim rebelled by refusing to pay tribute. Babylon marched on Jerusalem, and in 597 bc Jerusalem surrendered. When Jehoiakim died, he was replaced by his son Jehoiachin, who was taken to Babylon with the educated and skilled population of Jerusalem. The monarchy ended with Zedekiah, propped up by Nebuchadnezzar as Judah’s last king (597–586 bc).’ (DOT)
Taunt…ridicule…scorn – ‘The three words used here as taunt, ridicule and scorn are more often used in wisdom literature and teaching. Therefore Babylonia serves here as a proverbial kind of object lesson of those who overstep God’s bounds.’ (Baker, TOTC)
In the first woe, victims of extortion will take revenge (Hab 2:6b–8)….In the second woe, history will remember acts of violence (Hab 2:9–11)….The third woe of the puffed-up will be the knowledge that they spent their lives for nothing…The fourth woe concerns those who entice others to drunkenness. They will succumb to the terror of trees and animals (Hab 2:15–17)….The fifth woe of the puffed-up is futility for those who trust in lifeless created things (Hab 2:18–20).’ (DOT)
We may not welcome this picture of a God who pronounces such woes on the wicked, but ‘a part of his reality as the God of history includes his public vindication of the righteous and his public shaming of the wicked. His glory before all his creation is magnified by the establishment of honor for the humble and disgrace for the arrogant.’ (Robertson)
Them…him – The taunt appears to be addressed by the oppressed nations to the oppressor, Babylon.
‘Woe’ – Note the repeated use of this word.
‘In typical biblical fashion those who suffered under oppression delivered the taunt against the oppressor. The judgment against the enemy fit the crime committed and reminded the oppressor of his oppression.’ (NAC)
‘Captives do not usually taunt their persecutors, yet they will have God’s voice as a prophetic weapon of hope.’ (DOT)
Extortion – ‘Business and commerce always can be manipulated to gain unfair advantage. Habakkuk’s message concerning modern commerce is clear: do not make your wealth or your living by unjust practices. Practice the business of just weights and just measures. Work to make an honest living without destroying the livelihoods of others.’ (NAC)
‘The most common form of extortion was to demand tribute in exchange for not leveling a city, as in 597 bc Jerusalem.’ (DOT)
In business dealings, extortion was practised by the accumulation of pledges that were used as security against default on a loan. The last pledge that could be offered was oneself, and so this practice could lead to slavery (cf. Neh 5:1-5).
How long – a question often asked in Scripture.
Although the original reference was to Babylon, the sentiment applies equally to any tyranical power. None of them will escape God’s wrath.
Hab 2:7 Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim.
The punishment is ‘in kind’. The wicked are given a strong dose of their own medicine. (NAC)
Remember that although Babylon is addressed directly as ‘you’, the original readership was Judah, not Babylon.
Hab 2:8 Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you. For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
Hab 2:9 “Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin!”
The second woe is directed at those who ‘build…by unjust gain’; building up profit by cheating or by violence. They will be punished for the evil they have done. And yet they were fulfilling the purposes of God in the very wickedness they perpetrated.
Realm is lit. ‘house’ (as in the building, or the family occupying it). How easy it is to build a home, or business, or empire ‘by unjust gain’ and view it as impregnable. But no locks, ramparts, or alarm systems can render one immune to ruin or judgment.
Hab 2:10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
‘Those building a house by unjust gain thought they brought fame, prominence, and power to themselves. Instead, their plans only shamed their house, that is their families, their ancestors, and their descendants. Destroying other peoples was a part of the security plan to isolate themselves from attack or danger. God saw the plan from a different perspective. Such a plan incurred guilt and thus promised sin’s wages—death. Ending lives for others simply insured death for themselves. Rather than receiving adulation from the common people for wealth, the people brought shame on their house by the very actions that brought the wealth and provided the houses. Babylon’s actions of scheming against the peoples of the world brought shame on the nation that would lead to the forfeiting of their own lives. Instead of building themselves up, they participated in the process of their own destruction.’ (NAC)
Hab 2:11 The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.
‘The building is so much the result of wickedness that even its materials cannot forego protest.’ (Watts)
Hab 2:12 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime!”
‘Habitual cruelty, bloodshed and crime which were intended to secure permanent territorial holdings will not reach their intended goal. There will be no lasting benefits because they will go up in smoke. Those who still engage in nationalistic self-aggrandizement and ‘ethnic cleansing’ must be reminded of God’s unchanging abhorrence of this behaviour. (cf. Am 1:13) Seeking additional territory or resources such as oil or other strategic minerals without care for human life or territorial rights will ultimately prove futile when divine justice rights nationalistic wrongs.’ (NBC)
Hab 2:13 Has not the LORD Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
The Lord Almighty – lit. ‘the Lord of hosts’. It draws a picture of the Lord as heading up a mighty army.
Cf. Jer 51:58.
Hab 2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
In context, the meaning is: though the ungodly build cities with crime and bloodshed (v12), the Lord has determined that their labour will futile (v13), for, ultimately, the earth will be filled not with human wrong-doing but with ‘the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. Cf. Isa 11:9.
Habakkuk’s complaint against God (Hab 1:2-4) has been answered: the ungodly will be held accountable for their evil deeds. But this by no means exhausts God’s purposes for the world: he desire that the whole earth be filled with the knowledge of his glory. Cf. Ex 19:4-6.
‘The Lord declares that all punishment results as part of His plan to fill the earth with the knowledge of Himself.… Because God is righteous and sovereign, no sin can go unpunished lest God’s glory be diminished and [His] name sink in esteem.’ (House)
‘This verse, a modified quotation from the description of the peaceful messianic kingdom of Isaiah (Isa. 11:9), raises the oracle from a single reference to Babylon’s defeat and places it on the level of eschatology. In the last days God will move powerfully, bringing his kingdom to all creation. The violence of Babylon will ultimately be replaced by God’s tranquillity, which will be universally enjoyed. The specific aspect of Yahweh which is highlighted, though not mentioned in the Isaianic original, is his glory, the outward aspect of God’s being, his royal majesty and awesome power (cf. Exod. 40:34; Ps. 63:2)—the unlimited God in contrast to limited, grasping humanity.’ (Baker, TOTC)
Knowledge should be seen not only in informational terms, but in relationship terms. This is underlined by the word glory, which suggests God’s manifest presence. Not to know God invites his judgment, Ps 79:6; Jer 10:25. To know him is to enjoy his covenant benefits, Jer 31:31-34.
Israel had an expectation of God’s glory filling the sanctuary, Exod 40:34, 35; 1 Kgs 8:11; 2 Chr 7:1–2; Ezek 10:4; 43:5; 44:4. But Habakkuk and the prophets envision God’s glory as filling the whole world, Num 14:21; Ps 72:19; Isa 6:3. The teaching of the NT is that Christ makes God’s glory known throughout the world, Jn 1:14; Eph 1:17.
‘This is the final goal of all God’s work. History is not cyclical, a never-ending recurrence of one bad thing after another. It is linear, moving toward the goal of the kingdom of God. The prophet knows that there is no power in the world of nature or any human ruler that can subvert God’s plan for the world.’ (Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)
These words ‘are both the centerpiece of the five woes (Hab 2:12–14) and the physical center of the book. This declaration refers to God’s intention to bless all the nations of the world through Israel, bringing the whole creation back to the Creator (see Ex 9:16; Num 14:21; Is 11:9).’ (DOT)
The glory of God – is vividly pictured in chapter 3 (see Hab 3:3f in particular). For God’s enemies, it is a fearful thing; for the righteous who live by faith, it is awesome, but immensely comforting.
‘Israel expected God’s glory to fill their place of worship (Exod 40:34, 35; 1 Kgs 8:11; 2 Chr 7:1–2; Ezek 10:4; 43:5; 44:4). Habakkuk joined a prophetic chorus calling for more. God’s glory should be recognized as filling the entire universe (Num 14:21; Ps 72:19; Isa 6:3), letting all the people of the world experience and respond to God’s manifest, weighty presence. The prophet wanted the knowledge of God to be as pervasive as the waters that fill the seas. For Christian believers the verse takes us in mind and heart to the work of Christ, who came into the world to make God known in the most unique way possible (cf. John 1:14; Eph 1:17). Through Christ the earth may be uniquely filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.’ (NAC)
‘See what good God brings out of the staining and sinking of earthly glory; he thereby manifests and magnifies his own glory, and fills the earth with the knowledge of it as plentifully as the waters cover the sea, which lie deep, spread far, and shall not be dried up until time shall be no more. Such is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ given by the gospel (2 Co. 4:6), and such was the knowledge of his glory by the miraculous ruin of Babylon.’ (MHC)
Hab 2:15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies.”
‘The wicked not only engage in perversion but lead others into doing the same, providing their neighbours intoxicants in order to exploit their inebriated lack of decency. One thinks today of purveyors of pornography, gambling and drugs. They do not seek personal gratification but to exploit others by ensnaring them. The pervasive power of perversion continues to cross national and international boundaries, threatening not only individuals but also governments through its corruption. It seems that divine judgment might be the only means of breaking these ever-tightening chains.’ (NBC)
…so that he can gaze on their naked bodies – ‘Inadvertant observation of nakedness and the lack of a respectful response to it were strongly dealt with in the case of Noah and his son Ham (Gen. 9:22–27), where inebriation also played a part (Gen. 9:21). The Babylonians’ condemnation is greater since their action was deliberate rather than inadvertent.’ (Baker, TOTC)
Hab 2:16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed ! The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory.
The nation that thought itself glorious would collapse in shame before the God whose glory fills the whole earth.
Be exposed – Babylon would experience the utter shame of public nakedness.
Cup symbolises wrath and judgment, and right hand suggests power.
Christ picks up the ‘cup’ imagery in Mt 20:22; 26:42. ‘The wrath of the Father against the shameful sin of mankind finds a consummate manifestation in the outpouring of God’s judgment on his own son. As repulsive as ‘wrath’ in God may appear to the sophistications of the modern mind, it is a scriptural reality that found awesome expression as the Son of God suffered in the sinner’s place, drinking the cup of the fury of God.’ (Robertson)
Hab 2:17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
The violence you have done to Lebanon involves deforestation and depriving animals of their habitat. ‘Not only interhuman atrocities but also ecological excesses receive condemnation.’ (Baker, TOTC)
Destruction of animals – This concern for non-human life ‘is a needed corrective to the misunderstanding that humanity is the Creator’s sole interest. Rather, all creation suffers because of sin, and awaits restoration (Rom 8:20-22; cf. Gn. 6:5-7).’ (NBC)
‘God takes note when his lowliest creatures are terrified by the brutalities of insensitive human beings. He hears the groanings of his entire creation, and will see that the whole created universe joins in the final redemption of mankind (Rom 8:19–21).’ (Robertson)
‘This concept of the execution of reciprocal justice does not appeal to humanity. But it is God’s way. By this way he proves himself to be impartial and righteous as judge. By this way he finally establishes himself as just and yet also the justifier of the ungodly who believe.’ (Robertson)
This verse ‘points to humanity’s abuse of its authority over the rest of creation (Gen 1:28; Ps 8:6–9 [5–8]). It is one thing to rule over creation, respecting it as God’s creation entrusted to one for the moment (cf. Deut 22:6–7; 25:4; Prov 12:10; 27:23); it is quite another thing to exploit it unmercifully as though it belonged to one absolutely, as though one were not accountable for it to its creator.’ (Roberts)
Hab 2:18 “Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak.
Babylon trusted in its many gods. The nations it conquered, including Judah, would have been tempted to think that its gods were superior to theirs. But such gods are mere idols – manmade creations, dumb, powerless, lifeless.
‘This taunt is sevenfold. An idol has no value because it is made by a human, teaches lies, cannot speak, cannot come to life, cannot wake up, cannot give guidance and has no breath. The concluding expression is dramatically sarcastic: “It teaches! Look! It is gold and silver! And full of breath! Oh, there is not any in it” (Hab 2:19). By contrast, the Lord is present in the temple (see Divine Presence). He has created, teaches truth, is speaking, alive, awake, gives guidance, and is the one who gives the breath of life. Conversely, “silence” is for the people to keep in his presence (Hab 2:20b). No one has to call out to wake God for insight. He is already speaking.’ (DOT)
‘Worship an idol, and you receive from it what human beings can accomplish; but worship the Lord God, and you receive what the creator of the ends of the earth can accomplish.’ (NAC)
To trust is to rely on something or someone; but the object of trust needs to be reliable. People put their trust in riches (Job 31:24; Prov 11:28); other people (Ps 146:3; Jer 17:5–8); military might (Deut 28:52; Jer 5:17); physical beauty (Ezek 16:15); personal abilities (Prov 3:5; 28:26). But God’s people are to put their trust in God, Ps 62:8; cp. 115:9–11; Isa 26:3–4; 30:15. (NAC)
Why worship an idol that has been created with our own hands, when we should be worshiping the One who created us?
Idolatry today continues to consist in the worship of things made with human hands, for we worship our possessions, Eph 5:5.
Hab 2:19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.
Idols teach lies; they cannot hear prayers, or provide reliable guidance, or offer real hope.
Of so much that allures and entices today it could be said, ‘it has a lustrous veneer, but there is no life in it.’
Hab 2:20 “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”
Here, by way of climax, is ‘a call for reverent submission to the Lord of history, who through all the vicissitudes of history remains seated in his holy temple (v. 20).’ (Armerding)
In contrast to the dumb and lifeless idols, the true source of revelation is the Lord.
Let all the earth be silent before him – including the Babylonians, and all who set themselves against what is good and true and right; but also the prophet himself, complaining, questioning, waiting for answers.
Let us not protest that God is too kind to let wickedness go unpunished.
‘Yahweh is approached in silence, a fitting response to his holiness and majesty, and a token of one’s respect for his being—dependency upon his grace and submission to his will (cf. Ps. 46:10; Isa. 41:1). This silence is requested not only of Judah but of all the earth, who will ultimately acknowledge God as the true giver of knowledge (cf. Ps. 22:27; Isa. 2:2–3). This contrasts with the frenetic activity of man to create ‘speaking’ gods, and the tumultuous cries of worshippers to make dumb idols respond. Lifeless idols approached in clamour are silent, while the living God, approached in silence and reverence, speaks.’ (Baker, TOTC)
‘Now the prophet hushes himself and all the world, willing to let God act in God’s time and willing to wait for God to open his mouth when God chooses.’ (NAC)
‘Some of our services are far too formal, respectable and dull. At the same time, in some modern meetings the almost total loss of the dimension of reverence disturbs me. It seems to be assumed by some that the chief evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit it noise. Have we forgotten that a dove is as much an emblem of the Holy Spirit as are wind and fire? When he visits his people in power, he sometimes brings quietness, silence, reverence and awe. His still small voice is heard. Men bow down in wonder before the majesty of the living God and worship. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him’ Hab 2:20.’ (John Stott, Authentic Christianity, 276)