Introduction and Habakkuk’s complaint, 1-4

Hab 1:1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received.

Habakkuk is not mentioned elsewhere in the OT.  This very brief introduction tells us only the prophet’s name, not his home town (cf. Nah 1:1), or his lineage (cf. Zeph 1:1).  The audience (or readership) is not specified (cf. Amos 1:1; Mic 1:1; Isa 1:1; Nah 1:1).

Oracle – or,’burden’, suggesting that the message of the prophet was a load or burden.  The prophetic task was not always easy or delightful.  The prophet was ‘burdened’ with questions such as, ‘How could righteous Josiah die at the hands of a pagan king? How could Jehoiakim ever reign in the place of Josiah on the throne of Judah?’ (NAC)

The prophet – ‘The prophets were preachers who communicated God’s words in order to transform their audience’s thinking and social behavior.… They were persuading people to look at life in a radically different way (Jer 3:6–13).’ (G.V. Smith)

On the relevance of the prophetic message for us today, it is (a) a message from the unchanging God, and therefore applicable in all ages; (b) historically situated, and therefore speaking to real people living real lives; (c) true to human nature, which does not change, even though the social setting is different. (NAC)

Hab 1:2 How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?

This is a strange beginning for a book of prophecy, where we expect to hear the prophet speak on behalf of God to the people, rather than to utter his own complaint against God.

In vv2-4 ‘Habakkuk describes a ruined society full of crime, violence, corruption, mock legal battles and the defeat of the righteous, and he wants to know why God tolerates it.’ (DOT)

‘Isaiah begins with God’s complaint against his people. Jeremiah begins mysteriously with God’s description of a prenatal call experience to which the prophet raises a lament. Ezekiel starts off with an eerie theophanic experience; Amos, with a more normal theophany followed by oracles against foreign nations including Israel and Judah. Hosea begins with God’s invitation to marry a harlot. Joel begins by asking the people questions about the causes of current conditions. Obadiah opens with God’s call to battle against Edom, introduced uniquely by plural voices. Micah announces a theophany. Nahum begins with a confession of faith in a jealous and avenging God of wrath. Zephaniah starts straightforwardly with an oracle of judgment. Haggai begins with God’s condemning quotation of a complacent people’s refusal to do his work. Zechariah introduces a call to repentance immediately. Malachi begins with God’s confession of love for a people who do not believe him. God—his word, his actions, his coming, his call—opens prophetic books.’ (NAC)

‘Human nature tends to be filled with complaints, but human beings typically complain in the wrong directions. For example, we tend to talk about God rather than to talk to him; we tend to complain about God rather than complaining to him…The very fact that Habakkuk took his complaints to God can help believers to be honest in prayer, taking all our burdens to the Lord. Habakkuk’s experience shows that God is willing to hear our needs and to help us deal with our problems, even when he does not answer in the way that we expect or in the way that we ask.’

How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? – Habakkuk had been crying out to God for a long time. Now he has reached the end of his tether. In words often used in the psalms, he calls out, ‘How long?’ and ‘Why?’

His complaint against God might have been, in part: ‘Why did you allow good king Josiah to die at such a young age, and for his place to be taken by the detestable king Jehoiakim? (On the latter, see Jer 22:13-18)

‘The Prophet had often prayed God to correct the people for their wickedness, or to contrive some means to prevent so much licentiousness in sinning. It is indeed probable that the Prophet had prayed as long as there was any hope; but when he saw that things were past recovery, he then prayed more earnestly that God would undertake the office of a judge, and chastise the people.’ (Calvin)

‘We are not alone when we wonder why evil seems to prevail. (Job 10:3 21:1-18 Jer 12:1 Hab 1:2-4,12-17) God promises to deal with sin, but in his time, not ours. Actually it is good news that God doesn’t punish us immediately because we all have sinned and deserve God’s punishment. God, in his mercy, often spares us from immediate punishment and allows us time to turn from our sins and turn to him in repentance.’ (HBA)

We ourselves might utter a similar complaint, when, after praying for revival for many years, we see the nation going from bad to worse, or when we have been seeking the conversion of a loved one, we discern no change of heart.

“Violence!” – The word occurs six times in this book. Habakkuk lived in a violent world; but so do we.  The people  of God, should, of course, be characterised by shalom, peace.

‘Violence (Hb. ḥāmās) is a key term punctuating the message of Habakkuk (1:2–3, 9; 2:8, 17a, 17b). It “denotes flagrant violation of moral law by which man injures primarily his fellowman (e.g., Gen 6:11). Its underlying meaning is one of ethical wrong, of which physical brutality is only one possible expression (e.g., Judg 9:24).”‘ (NAC, quoting Armerding)

You do not listen…you do not save – Habakkuk has reached the point where he doubts that God is able, or willing to do anything to help.

‘The prophet is one with all those persons who fervently pray for peace in our world and who experience only war, who pray for God’s good to come on earth and who find only human evil. But he is also one with every soul who has prayed for healing beside a sickbed only to be confronted with death; with every spouse who has prayed for love to come into a home and then found only hatred and anger; with every anxious person who has prayed for serenity but then been further disturbed and agitated.’ (Achtemeier)

Hab 1:3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.

Injustice…wrong…destruction…violence…strife…conflict… – Notice how Habakkuk ransacks his vocabulary in giving vent to his distress.

‘Injustice can tempt us to believe that God does not care. Saddened by the violence and corruption he saw around him, Habakkuk poured out his heart to God. Today injustice is still rampant, but don’t let your concern cause you to doubt God or rebel against him. Instead, consider the message that God gave Habakkuk, and recognize God’s long-range plans and purposes. Realize that God is doing right, even when you do not understand why he works as he does.

Injustice can tempt us to believe God has forgotten. God responded to Habakkuk’s questions and concerns by stating that he would do amazing acts that would astound Habakkuk. When circumstances around us become almost unbearable, we wonder if God has forgotten us. But remember, he is in control. God has a plan and will judge evildoers in his time. If we are truly humble, we will be willing to accept God’s answers and await his timing.

History demonstrates that injustice has devastating consequences. God told the inhabitants of Jerusalem that they would be utterly amazed at what he was about to do. The people would, in fact, see a series of unbelievable events: (1) their own independent and prosperous kingdom, Judah, would suddenly become a vassal nation; (2) Egypt, a world power for centuries, would be crushed almost overnight; (3) Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, would be so completely ransacked that people would forget where it had been; and (4) the Babylonians would rise to power. Though these words were indeed amazing, the people saw them fulfilled during their lifetime.’ (HBA)

‘This passage teaches us, that all who really serve and love God, ought, according to the Prophet’s example, to burn with holy indignation whenever they see wickedness reigning without restraint among men, and especially in the Church of God.’ (Calvin)

‘It does not appear that the prophet himself had any great wrong done him (in losing times it fared best with those that had nothing to lose), but it grieved him to see other people wronged, and he could not but mingle his tears with those of the oppressed.’ (MHC)

Hab 1:4 Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.

The wicked – The prophet is probably referring to his fellow countrymen, rather than to foreigners.  The references to ‘the law’ and ‘justice’ tends to confirm this.

‘The rich exploited the poor and escaped punishment by bribing the officials. The law was either ignored or twisted, and nobody seemed to care. The courts were crooked, officials were interested only in money, and the admonition in Ex 23:6-8 was completely unheeded.’ (Wiersbe)

The righteous feel trapped and helpless. Wherever Habakkuk looked, those in authority ignored the law and ‘no one dared to oppose the torrent, though frauds, rapes, outrages, cruelty and even murders everywhere prevailed; if any righteous men still remained, they dared not come forth into the public arena, for the wicked beset them on all sides.’ (Calvin)

‘When God seems to connive at the wickedness of the wicked, nay, and to countenance it, by suffering them to prosper in their wickedness, it shocks the faith of good men, and proves a sore temptation to them to say, We have cleansed our hearts in vain (Ps. 73:13), and hardens those in their impiety who say, God has forsaken the earth.’ (MHC)

Habakkuk is a deeply unhappy man. ‘Why do good people suffer? Why do the ungodly flourish? Why are justice and mercy flouted with impunity? What is the point of praying? What is the point of faving faith in god? What kind of God is he? Why put up with the hassle of being a prophet? Why not take the wings of a dove and opt out? Why is it all such a burden?’ (Prior) Habakkuk puts into words the questions that so many of God’s people have hardly dared think.

The prophet’s unhappiness is compounded by the fact that sweeping religious reforms had been carried out just twelve years earlier by Josiah.  As these, it seems, have come to nothing.  Jehoiakim, who came to the throne in 609 BC, was a merciless and godless ruler.  Uniquely amongst Judah’s evil kings, he killed a prophet, Jer 26:20-23.  We read of his treatment of Jeremiah and his message in Jer 36:20-26.

The Lord’s Answer, 5-11

Hab 1:5 “Look at the nations and watch-and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”

Matthew Henry notes that the punishment meted out would be (a) public; (b) amazing; (c) speedy; (d) one in which the hand of the Lord would be readily apparent; (e) one which prefigures the punishment to be wrought upon the enemies of Christ and the gospel, Acts 13:41).

Here (vv5-11) is God’s response to the prophet’s complaint.  It is to be noted that the Lord does not respond directly to the prophet’s complaints.  This reminds us of how Jesus responded to his questioners, rarely (if ever) giving a ‘straight’ answer, but dealing with the ‘real’ question and probing the atittude of the questioner.

Cf. Acts 13:41. Habakkuk is instructed to look away from his own little corner of the world and see God working on a larger canvas. So often, when God wishes us to understand his dealings with us, he makes us take the long view, he enables us to see the bigger picture. Cf. Ps 73:17.

“Something…that you would not believe” – ‘unbelievable’, especially those who viewed God as complacent and inactive, too ‘soft’ ever to punish his own people, Jer 5:12.

Perhaps Habakkuk expected that God would raise up a courageous prophet, or a great king, or send a mighty revival.  If so, he would be astonished and dismayed at God’s answer.

‘Who could expect that the Lord would use such a wicked instrument to judge a nation more righteous than they?’ (NAC)

‘We need, like Habakkuk, to be open to God’s lateral thinking. His perception and perspective are much wider than ours. He sees the end from the beginning and he sees the whole picture. His purposes and activity are based on this knowledge an dunderstanding. Our judgements are radically affected by time, space and mortality. God stands outside all three. Yet, in his compassion and concern, he takes our prayers very seriously.’ (Prior)

Hab 1:6 I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.

The response Habakkuk was hoping might have been: “I am raising up a prophet, who will turn this nation back to me.’  Or, ‘I am going to send revival.’  God’s answer to Habakkuk’s cries of distress is shocking – he will punish wickedness with yet more wickedness!

I am raising up – The assumption is that God is raising up the Babylonians in order to punish his own people for the wickedness described in vv1-5.

“The Babylonians” – Strictly speaking, the Chaldeans. These were not the original inhabitants of Babylon, but had captured the kingdom from the Assyrians.

‘Far away in Babylon events were taking place which would change the course of human history; they were not random events, nor merely the independent actions of a human state. Rather, in the larger scheme of things, they were a part of God’s participation in human history which eventually would have their impact on the prophet’s nation.’ (Prior)

‘We must understand that it is possible that the forces which today are most antagonistic to the Christian Church are possibly being used by God for his own purpose.’ (Lloyd-Jones)

“Who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own” – the Babylonians adopted a ‘scorched earth’ policy. In addition to Babylonia, the Chaldeans conquered Assyria, Syria, Palestine and Egypt in the space of just a few years.

‘In this vivid description of a seemingly unstoppable power, one of Habakkuk’s great theological themes begins to surface: Evil has within itself the seed of destruction. Babylon will not have the last word after all, for within the empire are self-destructive traits: greed (Hab 1:6), cruelty (Hab 1:7), arrogance and self-sufficiency (Hab 1:7), haughtiness (Hab 1:10), and blasphemy (Hab 1:11).’ (Heflin)

Hab 1:7 They are a feared and dreaded people; they are a law to themselves and promote their own honor.

“They are a law to themselves” – an echo of Habakkuk’s complaint in v4. ‘So God’s answer to Habakkuk’s lament about lawlessness and injustice is greater lawlessness and more injustice at the hands of an evil empire of terrifying cruelty.’ (Prior)

‘Judah has rejected God’s mispat or order in its society (v. 4); therefore Babylonia’s order (mishpat, v. 7, NIV “law”) will be imposed upon it. Judah has opted for violence among its inhabitants (v. 2); therefore Babylonia’s violence will be its punishment (v. 9).… The punishment fits the sin.’ (Achtemeier)

‘God is not confined to the nation Judah. Many people in the ancient Near East assumed that each nation had its gods. People who moved to Judah came under the sway of the God of Judah. Naaman asked for two mule loads of dirt to take with him to Syria, apparently so he could worship the Lord in Syria. He assumed that he had to be on the Lord’s land in order to worship the Lord (2 Kgs 5:1–19).  God’s raising the Chaldeans showed that he is sovereign over the whole earth. He is not confined to one nation or one people (cf. Amos 9:7). God can work through other peoples to accomplish his purpose. God used the Assyrians as the “rod of his anger” to punish recalcitrant Judah at an earlier time (Isa 10:5–15). He chose Cyrus the Mede to deliver the people of Judah from the exile imposed by the Babylonians (Isa 45:1). In Habakkuk’s day God would use Babylon to punish Judah for its rebellion against the Lord.’ (NAC)

‘We see that the worst of men are in God’s hand, as Satan is, who is their head; and yet that God is not implicated in their wickedness, as some insane men maintain; for they say—That if God governs the world by his providence, he becomes thus the author of sin, and men’s sins are to be ascribed to him. But Scripture teaches us far otherwise,—that the wicked are led here and there by the hidden power of God, and that yet the fault is in them, when they do anything in a deceitful and cruel manner, and that God ever remains just, whatever use he may make of instruments, yea, the very worst.’ (Calvin)

Hab 1:8 Their horses are swifter than leopards, fiercer than wolves at dusk. Their cavalry gallops headlong; their horsemen come from afar. They fly like a vulture swooping to devour;

The Babylonians moved in with terrifying speed and precision. In these respects, they are alarmingly anticipatory of modern methods of war.

Hab 1:9 they all come bent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand.

“They all come bent on violence” – Here we find God responding the Habakkuk’s cry (2-3) with yet more violence.

Hab 1:10 They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them.

The Babylonians feared no king and no fortress. Established rulers such as the Egyptian Pharoah were treated like a joke. Hitherto impregnable cities ‘capitulated like so many sandcastles’ (Prior). Their method of attack was devastatingly simple”]: they heaped up great piles of earth against the city walls and then walked across into the city. One of the practices of the Babylonians was to put captured kings in cages and exhibit them like animals.

Hab 1:11 “Then they sweep past like the wind and go on-guilty men, whose own strength is their god.”

‘God had warned his people time and time again, but they wouldnt listen. Prophet after prophet had declared the Word, (2 Chron 36:14-21) only to be rejected, and he had sent natural calamities like droughts and plagues, and various military defeats, but the people wouldnt listen. Instead of repenting, the people hardened their hearts even more and turned for help to the gods of the nations around them. They had tried Gods long-suffering long enough and it was time for God to act.’ (Wiersbe)

“Guilty men, whose strength is their god” – in their might lay also their fatal weakeness. The seeds of their own destruction have already be sown. They thought they were accountable to nobody. ‘Ruthless arrogance is rightly epitomized as a form of self-deification.’ (Armerding)

‘The emphatic position of this statement about the godlessness of the Babylonians beckons the reader to expect more. This cannot be the entire answer of God to the prophet’s lament. Surely God will deal with the godless.’ (NAC)

Habakkuk’s Second Complaint, 12-2:1

Hab 1:12 O LORD, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy one, we will not die. O LORD, you have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, you have ordained them to punish.

Habakkuk now begins his response to God. He is still full of complaints. ‘If he look about him, he sees nothing but violence done by Israel; if he look before him, he sees nothing but violence done against Israel; and it is hard to say which is the more melancholy sight.’ (MHC) As God had suggested, v5, Habakkuk could scarcely believe what he had heard from God. He collects his thoughts and calms his nerves with (a) reflection on God’s unchanging nature, 12a; (b) realisation that God will use the Babylonians as his own instrument.

The prophet gives, as it were, an abstract of his systematic theology pertaining to the doctrine of God.  When our faith is stretched to breaking point, it is good to come back to the essentials of our creed.  But his understanding of God’s character makes the present situation appear worse, not better.

‘Habakkuk’s complaint indicates the prophet’s familiarity with both the Lord and the Babylonians. Israel’s prophets showed an amazing understanding of how the world worked. They demonstrated knowledge of geography, history, and politics. They also served as conduits and tutors for who the Lord is and how he works in the world. Can the modern-day pastor be any less conversant in any of these areas?’ (NAC)

“O Lord, are you not from everlasting?” – This indicates (says Matthew Henry), (a) the eternity of God’s nature; and (b) the antiquity of his covenant.

The prophet draws a contrast between the eternal God and the Babylonians, who have appeared very recently on the world’s stage. Their apparent invincibility is put into perspective by the unchanging nature of God. Nothing is a surprise to God. He has known about it all along.

‘The Prophet invites the attention of the faithful to the covenant which God had made, not yesterday nor the day before that, with his people, but many ages before, even 400 years before he redeemed their fathers from Egypt. Since then the favor of God to the Jews had been confirmed for so long a time, it is not without reason that the Prophet says here—Thou art our God from the beginning; that is, “the religion which we embrace has been delivered to us by thy hands, and we know that thou art its author; for our faith recumbs not on the opinion of men, but is sustained by thy word. Since, then, we have found so often and in so many ways, and for so many years, that thou art our God, there is now no room for doubt.”‘ (Calvin)

“My God, my Holy one” – in desperate contrast to ‘their god’, v11. There is in this expression ‘a mixture of passion and defiance.’ (Prior) Cf. Ps 22:1 Mk 15:34.

‘He speaks in the people’s name; every Israelite may say, “He is mine. Though we are thus sore broken, and all this has come upon us, yet have we not forgotten the name of our God, nor quitted our relation to him, yet have we not disowned him, nor hath he disowned us, Ps. 44:17. We are an offending people; he is an offended God; yet he is ours, and we will not entertain any hard thoughts of him, nor of his service, for all this.’’ (MHC)

“We will not die” – The position of this phrase seems slightly incongruous, and some commentators suggest that it should read ‘you will not die’. There is, however, no manuscript evidence for this. In either case, it is an expression of faith, which in context makes good sense: ‘You have been faithul to us from the very beginning, you will surely not let us utterly perish now.’

‘While the world stands God will have a church in it. Thou art from everlasting, and then we shall not die. The Israel of God shall not be extirpated, nor the name of Israel blotted out, though it may sometimes seem to be very near it; like the apostles, (2 Cor 6:9) chastened, and not killed; chastened sorely, but not delivered over to death, Ps 118:18. See how the prophet infers the perpetuity of the church from the eternity of God; for Christ has said, Because I live, and therefore as long as I live, you shall live also, Jn 14:19. He is the rock on which the church is so firmly built that the gates of hell shall not, cannot, prevail against it. We shall not die.’ (MHC)

“You have appointed them to execute judgement” – The prophet is now beginning to accept the wisdom of God in raising up the Babylonians against his own people. He is ready to bow in submission to the sovereignty of God.

‘Whatever the enemies of the church may do against her, it is according to the counsel of God, and is designed and directed for wise and holy ends: thou hast ordained them; thou hast established them. It was God that gave the Chaldeans their power, made them a formidable people, and in his counsel determined what they should do, nor had they any power against his Israel but what was given them from above. He gave them their commission to take the spoil and to take the prey, Isa 10:6. Herein God appears a mighty God, that the power of mighty men is derived from him, depends upon him, and is under his check; he says concerning it, Hitherto shall it come, and no further. Those whom God ordains shall do no more than what God has ordained, which is a great comfort to God’s suffering people. Men are God’s hand, the rod in his hand, Ps 17:14. And he has ordained them for judgment, and for correction. God’s people need correction, and deserve it; they must expect it; they shall have it; when wicked men are let loose against them, it is not for their destruction, that they may be ruined, but for their correction, that they may be reformed; they are not intended for a sword, to cut them off, but for a rod, to drive out the foolishness that is found in their hearts, though they mean not so, neither does their heart think so, Isa 10:7. Note, It is matter of great comfort to us, in reference to the troubles and afflictions of the church, that, whatever mischief men design to them, God designs to bring good out of them, and we are sure that his counsel shall stand.’ (MHC)

‘As if the prophet had said, thou hast ordained the wicked to correct thy children. Indeed, as Augustine says well, ‘We are beholden to wicked men, who against their wills do us good,’ As the corn is beholden to the flail to thresh off its husks, or as the iron is beholden to the file to brighten it, so the godly are beholden to the wicked, though it be against their will, to brighten and refine their graces. Now, then, if the wicked do God’s own work, though against their will, he will not let them be losers by it; he will raise them in the world, and give them a full cup of earthly comforts. Thus you see those providences are wise and regular, which to us seem strange and crooked.’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity)

On the idea of God chastising those he loves, see Heb 12:5-11.

Built into this statement is an assertion that God is sovereign over all. Habakkuk is learning that the nations rise and fall ‘not by their own instinct, but by the hidden impulse of God.’ (Calvin)

“O Rock” – ‘However the world is shaken, or man’s faith wavers, God remains unshaken as the Rock of Ages.’ (JFB) Do we have this attitude towards God, that even when his actions confuse and perplex us, we still turn to him as our strength and hiding place? Do we seek his counsel first, or last?

‘International relations are understood to be always under the sovereignty of God. World history does not take place by chance, according to the Scriptures, nor are human beings ever the sole effectors of it. Human actions result in particular events, to be sure, but human actions are always also accompanied by God’s effective actions as he works out his purpose.’ (Achtemeier)

Hab 1:13 your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

Vv13-17 The prophet begins to remonstrate with God about the apparent inconsistency between God’s essential nature and his actions.

“Your eyes are too pure…” – It was one thing for the prophet to be appalled by what he saw, v3, but quite another for God to look passively down while wickedness prevailed. Why did he continue to tolerate it? Was he powerless to overcome it? This was a problem to Job, (Job 21:7 24:1) to Asaph, (Ps 73:2-3) and to Jeremiah, Jer 12:1-2.

‘Habakkuk’s problem lay in what he knew about the Lord rather than in what he did not know. He knew that the Lord is holy and righteous. In the words of the great Old Testament text, Habakkuk knew the Lord to be a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Exod 34:6–7). This passage gives the fullest description in the Old Testament of the holy God. How could this holy, pure (v. 13) God leave the guilty in Judah and Jerusalem unpunished? How could God continue to turn a deaf ear to the prophet’s complaints?’ (NAC)

Why…why…? – ‘Habakkuk is not a drowning man about to go under for the last time. Paradoxically, his very strong inner security, as a person beloved by and belonging to God, releases him to batter the gates of heaven and berate the living God. There has always been this important distinction between bitter cynicism and believing confrontation: one is a denial that refuses to believe, the other is a belief that refuses to deny; one makes assertions and will not stay for an answer, the other makes assertions and will not move until there is an answer.’ (Prior)

God never gives the prophet a full answer to these questions. He tells him that the Babylonians’ day will come. Wickedness will not go unpunished. But the Lord has a purpose in the apparent tragedies of life. The man of God must rest assured that these sufferings are not the final answer. That will come in the end. Until then, the righteous person will live by faith in God, who is sovereign and just. (Hab 2:2-5)

“The wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves” – Habakkuk assumes the moral high ground here. It is a disturbing habit of religious zealots to pronounce judgement on other people’s degrees of wickedness or holiness. But at the core of the biblical revelation is the truth that there are just two ways to live.

Hab 1:14 you have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler.

Habakkuk’s second point is to comment on the helplessness of the people.

Hab 1:15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad.

There is a fiendish gloating in the attitude of the Babylonians. We have seen such glorying in brutality in the killing fields of Vietnam, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

Hab 1:16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food.

Habakkuk’s third point is to comment on the arrogance and self-confidence of the enemy.

‘Habakkuk could have said more about the abominable religion of the Babylonians. They believed in a multitude of gods and goddesses, with Bel as the head of their pantheon. Anu was the god of the sky, Nebo the god of literature and wisdom, and Nergal was the sun god. Sorcery was an important part of their religion, including honoring Ea, the god of magic. Their priests practiced divination and consulted omens, all of which was prohibited by the law of Moses. It seemed unreasonable that the Lord would allow such spiritually ignorant people to conquer Judah, the land that housed his own temple.’ (Wiersbe)

Hab 1:17 Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy?

Destroying nations without mercy – A modern word for this is ‘genocide’.

Here is another version of the key question, “Are you going to keep on tolerating this?”  The answer in ch 2 will be, “Yes, for a while, but not for ever.”

Chapter 2 will show that God has a day of reckoning for the perpetrators of such violence. ‘But we, too, need to watch any unethical behaviour in our own lives, which we try to justify by the results, particularly in a culture which has increasingly replaced ethics with pragmatics, the long-term with the short-term, the highest good with the bottom line, and principle with convenience.’ (Prior)