Today we read the prophecy of Habakkuk. This is a unique prophecy in that it does not record prophecy to anyone. It is a conversation between God and His prophet, who is complaining to God. Habakkuk’s complaint is that so many in Judah are wicked. Then his complaint is that God would use a foreign nation as the instrument of judgment against His own people.
Habakkuk begins by asking God why He hasn’t answered him (1:2). How often we think God isn’t listening when He doesn’t do what we want! Habakkuk sees the injustice in Judah; the unbelief of the people (vv. 3-4). So God answers him: Judah will pay for their wickedness. God is not idle (v. 5). Babylon (the Chaldeans) will come and destroy Judah and take the people captive (vv. 6-11). Babylon believes they are the highest authority in the world (v. 7). Their army is powerful and swift (v. 8). They have taken every land they have come against (v. 10). Their god is a god of war (Marduk, aka Bel – v. 11).
Habakkuk is now indignant at the idea of Babylon destroying Judah. He tells God it will not be so (“we shall not die” – v. 12). Even if God does this for reproof against His people, surely He will not allow them to be defeated! God cannot allow the wicked to defeat the righteous (v. 13). Habakkuk knows that Babylon has gathered other nations in captivity (vv. 14-15). But they are idolaters (v. 16). Is God going to put no end to their victories (v. 17)? Habakkuk has made his case, and now demands an answer from God (2:1).
So God tells Habakkuk to “write this down” so people will know before it happens (v. 2). This captivity is not the end of the story. There is more to come (v. 3). Babylon is a prideful and wicked nation (v. 4). They are going to be judged for their wickedness like Judah is being judged for hers. And yet, the righteous will live by his faith. The word is better rendered “faithfulness.” Whether a Jew or a Chaldean, the one who lives faithful to YHWH will live.
In verse 5, some manuscripts have “wealth” instead of “wine.” Either way, God is speaking about Babylon as never satisfied with what she has. She is greedy to take over more and more nations in her arrogance. The end of this is death (Sheol). And God pronounces woe on Babylon. All will taunt Babylon when she falls because she was never satisfied and dug her own grave (v. 6). Babylon will get her comeuppance from the remnants of the nations she has plundered (vv. 7-8). We will see that Persia defeats Babylon not too long after this.
The second woe against Babylon is for her presumption. She believed she was above defeat (v. 9). But she has sealed her own fate by her violence (v. 10) and the physical destruction of Babylon will speak of her condemnation (v. 11). The third woe is pronounced because Babylon’s empire has been built by bloodshed (v. 12). Their violence is not of God, and it will all prove to be for nothing (v. 13). When it happens, they will know it is from the hand of the Lord (v. 14). But there’s more here, because Babylon is often used symbolically of the kingdom of the world in all its iterations. Here in verse 14, we see that eventually, the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. This will be at the final judgment.
The fourth woe is for Babylon’s humiliation of those they have conquered. God likens this treatment to getting someone so drunk that you can get their clothes off to humiliate them (v. 15). God will therefore do the same to Babylon (v. 16). The “violence done to Lebanon” (v. 17) speaks of how Babylon decimated the forests of Lebanon to take its cedar for their own building projects (and siege works!). God will now decimate Babylon. God then denounces their worship of idols. They are worshiping false gods (vv. 18-19), but there is One true God Who is over all the earth (v. 20)! He is sovereign and this will all come to pass.
Chapter 3 records Habakkuk’s response of worship through what is essentially a Psalm. Habakkuk will wait for the fulfilment of God’s plan (v. 2 – see 2:3). Verse 3 speaks to God’s sovereignty over all the earth – Teman and Mount Paran are both outside of Judah. But God’s majesty covers heaven (see 2:20), and He is praised in all the earth. God is sovereign over disaster (vv. 4-6). But it is not as if God is angry at the earth itself (vv. 7-8). God’s judgment is because of man’s wickedness (v. 12). But that judgment is (as always!) accompanied with salvation for His people (v. 13).
In verses 7-15, we have a picture of not just temporal judgment and salvation, but also of final judgment and salvation. Verse 8 has an allusion to God’s salvation of His people from Egypt, but it also speaks of the New Exodus. Verses 9-10 speaks of the judgment of the Flood, but also of the final judgment. The “bow” is the sign of the covenant with Noah (after God used it to judge – see Gen 9:13-16). Verse 11 is an allusion to God making the sun stand still to give His people victory over their enemies (see Josh 10:12-13)1. Verses 12-15 speak of all God did (from Egypt to Canaan) to give His people salvation, and to judge the wicked nations around them.
Habakkuk ends by again surrendering to God’s plan (v. 16). He will wait for Babylon to defeat Judah, then for God to defeat Babylon. No matter what happens in this world (v. 17), Habakkuk will praise God and rely on Him for salvation (v. 18). No matter how low Habakkuk is in this world, He knows God will lift him up (v. 19).
1 Of course, the victory over the Amorites in the land pictures the final judgment of the wicked, as well.