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This chapter records God's answer to the second of Habakkuk's two questions raised in Habakkuk 1. The first regarded "how long" the well-deserved punishment of the wicked would be delayed. God's answer to the effect that Babylon, the great and wicked world-power soon to arise, would indeed punish wicked Israel for their sins did not fully satisfy Habakkuk. How could the holy and righteous God use a wicked state like Babylon to punish Judea, which with all of their sins were yet better than the Babylonians? Habakkuk took up his watch to await God's answer; and Jehovah promptly answered (Habakkuk 2:1-3).
Apparently, there was a terrible disappointment to Habakkuk in the revelation that the great new world power (Babylon) would be no better, in any sense, than was Assyria; and God's answer consisted of five terrible woes pronounced against the great wicked state that would destroy Judea: Woe 1 (Habakkuk 2:6-8), Woe 2 (Habakkuk 2:9-11), Woe 3 (Habakkuk 2:12-14), Woe 4 (Habakkuk 2:15-17), and Woe 5 (Habakkuk 2:18-19). These woes had the effect of describing, not merely Babylon, but all of the successive heads of the great Scarlet Beast of Revelation 13. Things on earth where rebellious humanity had broken their fellowship with God would never get any better as long as men rejected their Creator, but God was not at all being defeated in any of this; the chapter concludes with the focus upon God Himself: "But Jehovah is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him" (Habakkuk 2:20).
"I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will look forth to see what he will speak with me, and what I shall answer concerning my complaint."
As Hailey said, "Neither the `watch' nor the `tower' are to be taken literally ... Both terms are to be considered figuratively." The prophet simply meant that he would rely upon the Lord and wait for his answer.
"The figure is taken from the custom of ascending high places for the purpose of looking into the distance, and simply expresses the prophet's spiritual preparation of the prophet's soul for hearing the word of God."
Habakkuk did not have long to wait. The answer was at once provided.
"And Jehovah answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tablets, that he may run that readeth it."
Habakkuk was instructed to "write" the vision in order to assure its availability for all future generations, because the message was intended to bless all succeeding generations of mankind.
"That he may run that readeth it ..." is usually taken to mean that even the casual reader may understand it, as in the sense of Kebble's hymn, "There is a book, who runs may read"; but, according to Deane, "The Hebrew rather means that everyone who reads it may read fluently and easily." This, it seems to us, is a distinction without a difference; and so we take it in the traditional sense that even the occasional or casual reader can easily get the message.
The tablets mentioned here were the usual plates upon which writing was done. "These were usually of clay in Babylonia, and in some instances were of wood or ivory."
"For the vision is yet for the appointed time, and it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay."
"For the appointed time ..." This terminology indicates that the prophecy here has references to, "the last times (Daniel 8:17,19; 11:35), the Messianic times, in which the judgment would fall upon the power of the world." This rather surprising truth is most significant, because the conditions and sins immediately described in this chapter were current in Habakkuk's time and, in fact, perpetual throughout history, the profound meaning being that when sin and rebellion on the part of humanity have run their full course, the final judgment will fall upon the world. In the meanwhile, neither Habakkuk, nor anyone else, should be upset or perplexed because one wicked and ruthless state follows another with monotonous certainty, God using each in turn to punish the sins of the predecessor. This does not mean that God approved any wicked state. All are under the judgment of God; and, in his own time, God will settle his account with sin in this world. This was THE ANSWER, written for Habakkuk and for all people.
That there are indeed overtones of the Eternal Judgment itself in this verse is perfectly apparent when it is compared with Hebrews 10:36-38 -
"For ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise. For yet a very little while, He that cometh shall come, and shall not tarry, But my righteous one shall live by faith: And, if he shrink back, my soul hath no pleasure in him."
Thus, the very terminology of this passage was applied by the writer of Hebrews to the Second Coming of Christ. Both in Habakkuk and in Hebrews, "The reference is to the certainty of the event." "Paul, as well as Habakkuk, is speaking of our Lord's second coming."
"Behold his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him; but the righteous shall live by his faith."
Designated by many commentators as, "one of the profoundest utterance of the O.T.," this passage is quite generally grossly misunderstood. There is no reference whatever here to the inward, subjective faith of believers. As Moffatt translated the passage, "The good man lives as he is faithful." "Faith" in the biblical sense means faithfulness, integrity, perseverance, and fidelity. "Here 'faithfulness' as well as 'faith' is in view." It is generally allowed that Paul in Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; and Hebrews 10:38 referred to the LXX; and, if so, the passage referred to is there rendered, "The just shall live by my faith," a clear reference not to the inward act of believing on the part of God's servant, but to the "faith" or "religion" God had enjoined. This passage in Habakkuk makes it certain that Paul referred to the same thing. "Faith" as used by the apostle might indeed be paraphrased as "Christianity" or "the holy religion of Christ." Without any doubt, that is why Paul's key reference to the "obedience of faith" stands both at the beginning and at the end of Romans. The allegation that, "Paul's use of the term "faith" ... goes far beyond the meaning of Habakkuk's word" must be rejected as erroneous. Paul's reference to this passage proves that he was referring to exactly the same thing, namely, "fidelity." As Taylor pointed out, "`Faithfulness' is a more accurate translation than `faith' of the Hebrew in this passage." "In Habakkuk, the words mean, `The righteous survives if he is faithful.'" We might add that that is exactly what being justified by faith means throughout the N.T. As the apostle John wrote it, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). The foolish notion that any kind of a so-called experience in the believer's heart provides any short-cut to salvation by "faith only" is a monstrous and unscriptural delusion.
"His soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him ..." was accurately discerned by Hailey as a reference to the Chaldean; but in its ultimate application, it also refers to all of the godless, world rulers throughout history.
"Yea, moreover, wine is treacherous, a haughty man that keepeth not at home; who enlargeth his desire as Sheol, and he is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all peoples.
Although the character of the one described in this verse was primarily a reference to the Babylonian state, in its wider application, it describes the greedy, godless states of all times. Here we have a metaphor of the approaching enemy destined to overthrow God's rebellious Judea. It is that of a proud, treacherous, haughty drunkard, Babylon, drunk with power, motivated by an insatiable desire like that of the drunkard for drink. "The drunkard can never drink enough wine ... the Chaldeans can never conquer enough land." The reason for the choice of such a metaphor probably derived from the fact of, "drunkenness being a besetting sin of Babylon. It was, in the case of Belshazzar, the immediate cause of the fall of Babylon (Daniel 5:2-5,30)." Throughout history, this metaphor has persisted, rapacious conquerors, never satisfied, burning with an insatiable lust for more and more, being repeatedly compared to drunkards. Kipling used it thus:
"If drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe."
"He enlargeth his soul as Sheol ..." As the parallel clause shows,
"He is as death" this means that the conquering power of Babylon would be as hungry and insatiable as the grave, there being utterly no way to fill it up, or give it enough!
"Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his? how long? and that ladeth himself with pledges!"
Beginning with this verse, there are five woes pronounced against Babylon, of three verses each, and taking the form of repeated maledictions voiced spontaneously by the oppressed peoples themselves who had fallen under the feet of the conqueror. Oppression always provokes just such hatred and denunciation against the oppressor as that described in these verses.
Against aggression. "Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his ... and that ladeth himself with pledges." This refers to the conquest of other peoples and the burdening of them with tribute, taken in the form of pledges, and bound upon the people perpetually. Kerr was doubtless correct in seeing the Pentateuch as a background of these words. The use of "pledges," a word found nowhere else in the Bible, derived from, "The Hebrew abhorrence of the usurer and the Levitical laws regarding pledges."
"Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booty unto them?"
Rapacious world-conquerors shall themselves be conquered; those who have plundered other nations shall themselves, at last, be booty for those whom they have robbed.
"Shall they not rise up suddenly ..." Barnes observed that the destruction of evil powers throughout history has occurred suddenly. Babylon fell in a day; and the sudden collapse of great wicked states has occurred frequently, Germany being a modern example of it. "Such shall the end be."
"That shall bite thee ..." The word for bite is found in Deuteronomy 23:20, "with the meaning `to exact usury.'" However the word usually means `the sting of a serpent.' Garland was likely correct in thinking this choice by the prophets of words with dual meanings, "was deliberate, in order to make the pronouncements even more scathing."
"Because thou hast plundered many nations, all the remnant,of the people shall plunder thee, because of men's blood, and for the violence done to the land, to the city and to all that dwell therein."
This concludes the first woe and makes it clear that God will double unto the wicked oppressor states the full measure of their reward and retribution in kind for the wickedness they have committed against others.
"All the remnant of the people ..." This does not mean the remaining nations left unplundered by the Babylonians, but the remnant of the people's remaining in the plundered nations after their conquest. Keil said that this explanation is the only one "in harmony with the usage of the language."
"Violence done to the land ..." This is usually understood as a reference, by metonomy, to all the peoples of the world; but there would appear to be in it also a reference to the wanton destruction and misuse of the natural resources as well, a thought apparently demanded by the dramatic figures used to describe the impact of Babylon upon the earth. Jeremiah called them, "the hammer of the whole earth" (Jeremiah 51:7), and "a destroying mountain that destroyeth the whole earth" (Jeremiah 51:25). In his comment on Habakkuk 2:17, where this thought recurs, Hailey wrote that, "The Chaldean held the whole creation of God in contempt, considering it all his to be used for his own selfish ends." "These woes are universal"; therefore, it is sinful today to strip the earth of its resources for selfish ends, and the ancient curse still pertains to those who do so.
"Woe to him that getteth an evil gain for his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the hand of evil!"
This is a reference to Babylon. Jamieson's comment is:
"The image is from an eagle's nest (Job 39:27). The royal citadel (of Babylon) is meant. The Chaldean built high towers like the Babel founders, `to be delivered from the power of evil' (Genesis 11:4)."
Against exploitation and extortion. This woe is directed against dishonest and unscrupulous devices of all kinds, by which men seek to elevate themselves at the expense of others.
"The oppressors have built an empire, their house, by exploitation of conquered peoples and extortion of their possessions. They intend to sustain a thriving economy by these same means."
However, as it will be dramatically stated in the very next verse, such efforts to attain earthly security are foredoomed to failure. "The house that has been built upon evil in an effort to reach earthly security will itself `cry out' against the evildoer."
"Thou has devised shame to thy house, by cutting off many peoples, and have sinned against thy soul."
As Ward pointed out, each of these woes has three verses, and the three are necessary to make the meaning clear. For example, in this woe, the reference to "the eagle's nest" would seem to apply to Edom; but here in Habakkuk 2:10, "The repetition of the multiplied conquests applies the malediction still to the Chaldeans."
"Thou hast devised shame to thy house ..." By riding rough-shod over weaker and less fortunate people, the Babylonians thought they were building their own security; but actually they were destroying it. As Jeremiah expressed it, "Do they provoke me to anger? saith Jehovah; do they not provoke themselves to the confusion of their own faces" (Jeremiah 7:19)? Sin always has a violent recoil impacting upon the sinner himself.
"For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it."
"This is a proverbial expression to denote the horror with which the savage cruelty of the Babylonians was regarded." It is most appropriate that such an expression is used here, because the walls and timbers of Babylon were specifically the fruit extorted from the enslavement of conquered peoples. The ascription of speech to inanimate objects such: as stones is a very forceful way of calling attention to their true meaning, especially as regards their being or utility. Shakespeare spoke of, "Tongues in trees, books in running brooks, and sermons in stones." Our Saviour also used this metaphor as follows: "I tell you, that if these shall hold their peace, the stones shall cry out" (Luke 19:40).
"Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and establisheth a city by iniquity."
Against cruelty and violence. Deane's comment upon the bloody deeds of the Babylonians in this context is appropriate:
"The mutilations of prisoners, the weary imprisonments, the massacre of non-combatants, the refinement of cruelty shown in the execution of children before the eyes of their fathers (and then blinding the fathers!) - these and similar atrocities of the Babylonians are totally without excuse ... We cannot be surprised that when the final judgment was denounced against Babylon, it was declared to be sent, in a great measure, because of men's blood."
Great Babylon, standing ever since the flood, doubtless appeared to men as impregnable, a mighty stronghold incapable of being overthrown; but God himself has written "Futile" over the works of men that are wrought without regard for the Creator and his sacred law. The whirling suns shall brush every civilization into the grave unless that civilization is built upon Truth, God's truth. The sands of time shall bury the wicked; the tides of history shall wash them away. The only kingdom that cannot be destroyed is the kingdom of the Lord (Hebrews 12:28).
"Behold, is it not of Jehovah of hosts that the people labor for the fire, and the nations weary themselves for vanity?"
"The people labor for the fire ..." "This means that the fire will devour the cities that have been built." Nothing will remain of all their labors; all of their energies are being wasted.
"The nations weary themselves for vanity ..." What is true of individuals is also true of nations. The ones which build without the fear of God or concern for his will must discover in the end that their entire existence has been an exercise in vanity and futility. "I will destroy the sinful kingdom" (Amos 9:8) is the perpetual sentence of Almighty God against proud, ruthless, cruel, and unscrupulous human states.
"For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea."
Without any doubt, "Habakkuk here prophesies the inauguration of the universal kingdom of Yahweh upon the earth." This, of course, means the Church of Jesus Christ and the initiation of the reign of Our Lord on Pentecost, he having received shortly before that time, "All authority in heaven and upon earth" (Matthew 28:18-20).
"Knowledge of the glory of Jehovah ..." There is no assertion here to the effect that all men will become servants of God and that a new age will appear in which there will be "a world which is free from fear and want." No indeed! This text accurately declares that "the knowledge" of God's glory shall cover the whole world, a fact already demonstrated for millenniums.
The one thing that prevents the appearance of just such a golden age as some would like to find in this passage, is the freedom of the human will. As long as men have THAT; and there is no indication that God ever intends to take it away from us, then, just that long the world will be full of violence, cruelty and deceit. "The new heaven and the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" will indeed come to pass, but 2Peter makes it clear enough that a precondition of the emergence of that utopian state of affairs is the "burning up" of the present earth and all that is in it, language which we believe is a reference to the Final Judgment.
Christian students need not be disturbed by allegations of O.T. enemies to the effect that this promise of the future kingdom "does not belong here," or that "it was added by a redactor," or that "it was not written by Habakkuk." All such criticisms betray a gross ignorance of the nature of prophecy. A careful study of the prophets from Moses to Revelation requires that one should expect in all true prophecy just such a reference as this.
The allegation that Habakkuk was here quoting another prophet is precarious. In fact, we reject it outright. Long years of study of the sacred Scriptures have fully convinced us that when one inspired writer quoted another, he said so, often named the prophet quoted, and left no doubt whatever of what he was doing. Mere similarity of passages, or even verbatim correspondence, is no proof whatever that one prophet was quoting another. Could not the God of heaven and earth have said the same thing to Habakkuk that he said to Isaiah, or Amos, or Jonah?
As for the prejudice that prophecies of glory and of doom cannot appear in the same prophet, such a proposition is actually ridiculous. In ALL of the prophecies, this juxtaposition of doom and glory is ever present, notably in the book of Revelation, where the proleptic visions of heavenly glory are the features of the whole book. This is so much an established characteristic of the holy prophetic writings, that any significant absence of such things would be incredible.
The purpose of this verse, therefore, is that of showing that no matter how strong and terrible the force of evil may prevail upon earth; there is most surely coming a time when the righteous shall prevail. God will at last triumph over all evil. Even now, the evil that perplexes men is permitted in the purpose of God for reasons ample and sufficient; and such evil will continue not one second longer than it pleases God for it to do so.
Kerr pointed out the significant difference in what Habakkuk wrote here from that which was written in Isaiah 11:9.
"There, Isaiah foretells a time when men shall know God, being brought into intimate fellowship with him. This verse says there shall be a manifestation of the glory of God, that is, as it will be displayed in judgment against ungodliness and the foes of God's people."
"As the waters cover the sea ..." The great prophecies of the holy Scriptures, which even today are in the process of being fulfilled all over the world, prove absolutely that the God of the Bible is the ruler of the universe who knows the end from the beginning. Hailey said, "This knowledge is accessible to all men everywhere; its voice covers the earth as waters cover the sea, for there is no place where God's fulfilled prophecies are not to be found."
"Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, to thee that addest thy venom, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness."
"Sensual lust is here a figure of the barbarous lust for power; this usage implies, of course, a strong condemnation of the actions that supply the figures."
Against treachery and inhumanity. This woe is directed not so much against the overwhelming violence of the predator Babylon, but is against the false, treacherous, deceitful and cunning ways they used to seduce and destroy their neighbor nations.
The figure in this verse actually has reference to the promises, alliances, benefits, honors, etc. proffered to weaker nations and their rules, having only one purpose, their destruction. The "poison" in the pleasant "drink" offered by rapacious Babylon refers to the trap by which the target state is deceived and delivered into the hands of Babylon. It should be remembered in all this that Babylon is a type of all mankind organized against God, as man appears throughout history. All the wicked cities of earth are called Babylon the Great in Revelation. Her name is also given to Mystery Babylon, the Great Whore of Revelation, which is apostate Christianity.
The use of the drink metaphor here is quite significant, for it is continued throughout the word of God, even to the very end of it. Thus the Mystic Babylon is said to make the nations drink of her cup (Revelation 14:8; 17:2; 18:3); but God will at last compel wicked Babylon itself to drink of the cup of his wrath. "Double unto her double!" is the way the sentence runs.
"Thou art filled with shame, and not glory: drink thou also, and be as one circumcised; the cup of Jehovah's right,hand shall come around unto thee, and foul shame shall be upon thy glory."
"As one uncircumcised ..." Babylon was a city of people who had no covenant relationship with God, her condition being therefore all the more hopeless. This reference to the "foreskin" as it is in the Hebrew, "expresses the most utter contempt." The Hebrew also carries the meaning here that, "Thou shalt drink it all," all of the wrath of God. It may not be doubted for a moment that this came to pass. Where is Babylon today? Where will be those nations which today are living without God, when TOMORROW comes? The universal arrogance and conceit which mark the conduct of evil men today is exactly like that of the ancient Babylonians, and shall be as little effective against the will of God, as was theirs.
"For the violence done to Lebanon shah cover thee, and the destruction of the beasts which made them afraid; because of men's blood, and for the violence done to the land, to the city, and to all that dwell therein."
This is a continuation of the prophet's statement of the reasons lying behind God's woes against Babylon. Here additional light is given upon a subject mentioned in Habakkuk 2:8, namely, that of violence done to the earth itself. The contrast here between "men's blood," and "the violence done to the land" leaves no doubt that the ruthless destruction of the earth's raw materials and natural resources constituted a major facet of Babylon's guilt. (See further comment under Habakkuk 2:8, above.)
Inherent in such a denunciation as this is the fact of the beasts of the earth also having rights which men should not violate. The slaughter of the vast buffalo herds that once roamed North America must ever stand as an act of the utmost contempt for God's creation. Babylon had done a similar wanton and irresponsible thing when they cut down the forests of Lebanon for the purpose of making for themselves palatial buildings, thus denuding the land and destroying the natural habitat for the wild creation.
Against graven images. This woe, although not stated until Habakkuk 2:19, nevertheless begins with Habakkuk 2:18.
"What profiteth the graven image? that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, even the teacher of lies, that he that fashioneth its form trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?"
It is surprising to some commentators that Babylon should have been denounced for this sin, the popular view being that pagan nations did not know any better. But the truth is that all of the pre-Christian Gentile nations had received from God ample revelation to have prevented idol worship if only the people had been willing to receive it. Babylon, a subject of Assyria, at the same time, generally, of Jonah's conversion of the entire city of Nineveh, certainly did know better than to fashion graven images and to worship them. "God manifested it unto them" (Romans 1:19).
"What profit ..." What profit ever pertained to any graven religious image? How utterly foolish, even to abject stupidity, is the conduct of any nation that "trusteth" in such devices? The same question must be raised with references to religious communions that rely upon such devices for the achievement of any purpose whatsoever. Besides being directly condemned and proscribed by the Decalogue itself, the graven image is worse than useless, it is a "teacher of lies" as this verse declares.
"The idol is a teacher of lies, inasmuch as it sustains the delusion, partly by itself, and partly by its priests, that it is God, and that it can do what men expect from God; whereas, it is nothing more than a dumb nonentity."
As for the allegation that a graven image can in any manner whatsoever "remind one of God," that also is another falsehood. How could that which is blind, deaf, mute, powerless, helpless, unable to move or think, subject to the erosion of time, and eventually stripped and denuded even by the atmosphere itself; how could such a THING remind one of the infinite and compassionate God ?
Hailey called attention to the fact that Isaiah has a classic sarcasm against all idols (Isaiah 44:9-20). Barnes pointed out that men still bow down to idols, even though the habit of making graven images has been somewhat curtailed from the times of rampant idol worship as practiced in ancient Babylon.
"And what else are men's idols of wealth, honor, fame, which he makes to himself, the creatures of his own hands or mind, their greatness existing chiefly in his own imagination, before which he bows down himself, who is the image of God?
"Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise! Shall this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it."
"Woe unto him that saith ... Awake ... Arise! ..." Were there people who said such things ? Of course. The woe here focuses upon the priests and others who used the idols to deceive simple souls. To all intents and purposes, the dumb idols of Babylon were the only "god" that any of the people knew. That such "gods" were a mere cipher in the spiritual sense must be viewed as an astounding fact. What a terrible fate must ever await the nation which knows not the true God. As for the idols of Babylon, frequently of wood and stone, they were overlaid with gold and silver, making it impossible for any voice, even if the idol had a voice, to escape!
"But Jehovah is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him."
This, of course, is the most widely known and quoted verse in the whole prophecy of Habakkuk, being usually utilized to induce quiet upon religious assemblies and to inspire reverence at religious services and in places of assembly. Much more, however, is inherent in this magnificent passage. The "temple of God" in view here is no mere house of worship. The place of the Lord's residence or "being" is heaven (Isaiah 26:21; Psalms 11:4; Jonah 2:7; Micah 1:2). "God reigns in heaven, and fills heaven." God's holy temple, therefore, "is not the shrine in Jerusalem, but heaven itself." The dramatic meaning of all this is simply that God has not abandoned his creation; he still sits upon the throne of universal authority and power; he is the Almighty God, and the indecent and scandalous behaviour of apostate powers constructed by rebellious and wicked men, such as that of Babylon, will rage from time to time, but only under the permissive will of Him who is all, and in all, and above all; and those who trust in the true God and strive humbly to do his will may rest in the serene assurance that their reward with God is safe.
"Let all the earth keep silence before him ..." All of the noise made by sinful and rebellious men will eventually subside. God will speak from the Throne on High at the appointed time, and all nations shall assemble before Him for the Judgment of the Great Day. And at that moment, all the world will fulfil the commandment uttered here. "No other attitude is proper but to keep silence, whether in submissive, patient faith, or in speechless terror."
That occasion will be the one mentioned in Revelation, "For the great day of his wrath has come, and who shall be able to stand?" (Revelation 6:17).
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Habakkuk 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter