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II. HABAKKUK’S QUESTIONS AND YAHWEH’S ANSWERS 1:2-2:20
The prophet asked Yahweh two questions and received two answers.
D. Yahweh’s answer about Babylon ch. 2
The Lord gave Habakkuk a full answer to his question about using Babylon to judge the Israelites.
Habakkuk compared himself to a sentinel on a city wall watching the horizon for the approach of a horseman. He purposed to watch and wait expectantly for the Lord to reply to this second question, as He had the first, so he could report it to his people (cf. Habakkuk 3:16). He prepared himself for a discussion with the Lord about the situation as well as for the Lord’s answer that he expected in a vision or dream (cf. Job 13:3; Job 23:4).
"Only by revelation can the genuine perplexities of God’s dealings with human beings be comprehended." [Note: Robertson, p. 166.]
"Yahweh’s response to those who inquire of him is never automatic. They must be willing to wait in order to hear ’what God the LORD will speak’ (Psalms 85:9 )." [Note: Bruce, p. 857.]
1. The introduction to the answer 2:1-3
Yahweh did respond and told the prophet to make a permanent, easy-to-read record of the vision, which He would give him, on tablets (of clay, stone, or metal; cf. Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:15-16; Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 27:8). Having received and recorded the vision, Habakkuk, and other messengers, should then run to tell their fellow citizens what God’s answer was.
"The matter was to be made so clear that whoever read it might run and publish it." [Note: Kerr, p. 876. Cf. Daniel 12:4.]
"It [the interpretation of the Lord’s command here] could involve passers-by, who will be able to read the message as they go by and then pass the message on informally to those they meet, or it could mean a herald, whose specific function will be to spread the message throughout the land (so NEB, NIV)." [Note: Baker, p. 59.]
The vision Habakkuk was about to receive concerned events to take place in the future. Though it was a prophecy that would not come to pass immediately, it would materialize eventually. Habakkuk was to wait for its fulfillment because it would indeed come at the Lord’s appointed time.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews quoted this verse (Hebrews 10:37). He used it to encourage his readers to persevere in their commitment to Jesus Christ since what God has predicted will eventually come to pass, which in the context of Hebrews is the Lord’s return.
Proud Babylon was not right in doing what she did but was puffed up with pride and evil passions. In contrast, the righteous one will live by his faith (cf. Genesis 15:6). By implication, Babylon, the unrighteous one, would not live because she did not live by faith (trust in God) but by sight and might. She sought to gratify her ambitions by running over other people rather than by submitting to God’s sovereignty.
This verse appears three times in the New Testament. Paul quoted it in Romans 1:17 and emphasized "righteous." Faith in God results in righteousness for both Jews and Gentiles. He used it again in Galatians 3:11 but to stress "live." Rather than obtaining new life by obeying the Mosaic Law, the righteous person does so by faith. In Galatians Paul was addressing Gentiles mainly. The writer of Hebrews also quoted this verse in Hebrews 10:38, but his emphasis was on "faith." It is faith that God will reward in the righteous. In this case the original readers were primarily Jews. In all three cases "live" has the broader reference to eternal life, but here it is mainly physical life that is in view. Thus this verse is clearly an important revelation in the Bible, even its essential message.
"It takes three books to explain and apply this one verse!" [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, "Habakkuk," in The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 411.]
This is the key verse in Habakkuk because it summarizes the difference between the proud Babylonians and their destruction with the humble faith of the Israelites and their deliverance. The issue is trust in God.
"’The just shall live by his faith’ was the watchword of the Reformation, and they may well be the seven most important monosyllables in all of church history." [Note: Ibid., p. 416.]
"The underlying theme of the book may be summarized as follows: A matured faith trusts humbly but persistently in God’s design for establishing righteousness in the earth." [Note: Robertson, p. 136. Italics omitted.]
Bruce stated the theme of the book as "the preservation of loyal trust in God in face of the challenge to faith presented by the bitter experience of foreign invasion and oppression." [Note: Bruce, p. 831.]
The Hebrew word ’emunah, "faith," can also mean "faithful" or "steadfast." It can also mean "integrity." [Note: Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., pp. 437-38.] Did the Lord mean that the righteous will live by his trust in God or by being faithful to God, by being a person of integrity? Scripture elsewhere reveals that both meanings are true: trust and integrity. However in this context "faith" or trust seems to be the primary meaning since the Babylonians did not trust God whereas the Israelites did. Both the Babylonians and the Israelites had been unfaithful to God.
"The discrepancy between ’faith’ and ’faithfulness’ is more apparent than real, however. For man to be faithful in righteousness entails dependent trust in relation to God (e.g., 1 Samuel 26:23-24); such an attitude is clearly demanded in the present context of waiting for deliverance (Habakkuk 2:3; Habakkuk 3:16-19)." [Note: Armerding, p. 513.]
"This is the first of three wonderful assurances that God gives in this chapter to encourage His people. This one emphasizes God’s grace, because grace and faith always go together. Habakkuk 2:14 emphasizes God’s glory and assures us that, though this world is now filled with violence and corruption (Genesis 6:5; Genesis 6:11-13), it shall one day be filled with God’s glory. The third assurance is in Habakkuk 2:20 and emphasizes God’s government. Empires may rise and fall, but God is on His holy throne, and He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 416.]
2. The Lord’s indictment of Babylon 2:4-5
Having prepared the prophet for His answer, the Lord now gave it. What follows must be that revelation.
The Lord advanced the thought of Habakkuk 2:4 further. When a person drinks too much wine it leads him to reveal his pride publicly. The Babylonians were known for their consumption of wine (e.g., Daniel 5). Wine makes a person dissatisfied with his present situation and possessions, and he often leaves his home to find more elsewhere (cf. Proverbs 23:31-32). The proud person is never satisfied, like death that consumes people every day and never stops. Babylon was similar, opening wide its jaws to consume all peoples. The proud person also seeks to dominate others, and this too marked Babylon. These were the evidences of Babylon’s pride and the basis of Yahweh’s indictment of this nation (cf. Habakkuk 1:17).
"Sheol is, in the O.T., the place to which the dead go. (1) Often, therefore, it is spoken of as the equivalent of the grave, where all human activities cease; the terminus toward which all human life moves (e.g. Genesis 42:38; Job 14:13; Psalms 88:3). (2) To the man ’under the sun,’ the natural man, who of necessity judges from appearances, sheol seems no more than the grave-the end and total cessation, not only of the activities of life, but also of life itself (Ecclesiastes 9:5; Ecclesiastes 9:10). But (3) Scripture reveals sheol as a place of sorrow (2 Samuel 22:6; Psalms 18:5; Psalms 116:3), into which the wicked are turned (Psalms 9:17), and where they are fully conscious (Isaiah 14:9-17; Ezekiel 32:21). Compare Jonah 2:2; what the belly of the great fish was to Jonah, sheol is to those who are therein. The sheol of the O.T. and hades of the N.T. are identical." [Note: The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 954.]
Because of the Babylonians’ sins it was inevitable that the righteous would taunt and mock them. They would pronounce woe on them for increasing what was not theirs just to have more and for making themselves rich by charging exorbitant interest on loans. How long would this go on, they asked themselves (cf. Habakkuk 1:2). When would God judge Babylon?
Judgment for exploitation 2:6-8
3. The Lord’s sentence on Babylon 2:6-20
The Lord pronounced taunts or mocking statements on the Babylonians announcing that they would receive judgment for their sins. This taunt song consists of five stanzas of three verses each. Five woes follow. Baker entitled them "the pillager," "the plotter," "the promoter of violence," "the debaucher," and "the pagan idolator." [Note: Baker, pp. 62, 64, 65, and 67.] Each woe is "an interjection of distress pronounced in the face of disaster or in view of coming judgment (cf. Isaiah 3:11; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 10:5; et al.)." [Note: Blue, p. 1514.]
Those from whom Babylon had stolen would surely rise up and rebel when they woke up to what was going on. Then they would turn the tables and Babylon would become plunder for them. This happened when the Medes and Persians rose up and overthrew Babylon in 539 B.C.
Babylon would suffer the same punishment it had inflicted on other nations (cf. Proverbs 22:8; Galatians 6:7). Its survivors would loot it because it had looted other peoples. Babylon’s pillaging had involved human bloodshed and ethical wrong ("violence") done to the land of Canaan and to the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants.
Babylon used its unjust acquisitions to build a secure place for itself that it thought would be safe from all calamity (cf. Genesis 11:4). It built a strong and rich dynasty (house) so it would be self-sufficient. Another interpretation is that the secure nest in view is the capital city. [Note: Bruce, p. 867.]
Saving to protect oneself from large future expenses is not wrong in itself, but to build a fortune so one will not have to trust in anyone else is saving with the wrong attitude (cf. James 5:1-6).
Judgment for self-exaltation 2:9-11
It was shameful for the Babylonians to destroy other peoples (cf. Habakkuk 2:5; Habakkuk 2:8). By doing so they were sinning against themselves. That is, they were doing something that would eventually bring destruction on themselves.
The stones and woodwork taken from other nations to build the Babylonians’ fortresses and palaces would serve as visual witnesses to the sinful invasions that brought them to Babylon. They would testify to the guilt of the Babylonians in the day that Yahweh would bring Babylon to judgment. Ostentatious buildings and cities make statements about their builders.
The Babylonians could expect distress because they had built their cities at the expense of the lives of their enemies. We speak of "blood money" as money obtained by making others suffer, even shedding their blood. Babylon was built with "blood money" and the blood, sweat, and tears of enslaved people. It was a town founded on injustice; without injustice it could not have become what it had become.
Judgment for oppression 2:12-14
This verse is the center of this taunt song structurally. It is significant that it focuses on almighty Yahweh, the Judge. His assessment was that the Babylonians’ hard work was in vain; all their labor would amount to nothing. Their works would turn out to be fuel for fire that would burn them up, the fire of His judgment (cf. Jeremiah 51:58).
Rather than the earth being filled with the glory of Babylon, it will one day be filled with knowledge of God’s glory, as comprehensively as the waters cover the sea (cf. Numbers 14:21; Psalms 72:19; Isaiah 6:3; Isaiah 11:9; Jeremiah 31:34). This has yet to be. This prediction refers to the ultimate destruction of Babylon in the eschatological future (cf. Revelation 16:19 to Revelation 18:24).
The Babylon in view in the Book of Habakkuk was mainly the Neo-Babylonian Empire, but ever since Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) "Babylon" had a symbolic meaning as well as a literal one. Symbolically it represented all ungodly peoples who rose up in self-reliance to glorify themselves and reach heaven by their own works. God destroyed the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C., but what Babylon represents will continue until God destroys it when Jesus Christ returns to the earth to set up His new order in the Millennium (cf. Revelation 17-18).
God would judge Babylon because the Babylonians had deceived their neighbor nations with the result that they were able to take advantage of them. The Babylonians had behaved like a man who gets a woman drunk so she will lose her self-control and he can then undress her. That the Babylonians took advantage of their victims sexually is implied in the illustration, as is their love for wine.
Judgment for rapacity 2:15-17
As they had made their neighbors drunk, so the Lord would give them a cup of judgment that would make them drunk. Yahweh’s right hand is a figure for His strong personal retribution, giving back in kind what the person being judged had given (cf. Isaiah 51:17-23; Jeremiah 25:15-17; Lamentations 4:21; Matthew 20:22; Matthew 26:42; 1 Corinthians 11:29). Having swallowed the cup’s contents the Babylonians would disgrace themselves rather than honoring and glorifying themselves as they did presently. Their future disgrace contrasts with Yahweh’s future glory (Habakkuk 2:14). They would expose their own nakedness as they had exposed the nakedness of others (Habakkuk 2:15). The Hebrew is more graphic and literally reads, "Drink, yes you, and expose your foreskin," namely, show yourself to be uncircumcised. Nakedness involves vulnerability as well as shame (cf. Genesis 9:21-25). The Lord pictured Babylon as a contemptible, naked drunk who had lost his self-control and the respect of everyone including himself.
Babylon’s violence (ethical and moral injustice) would come back to cover him because he had rapaciously stripped Lebanon of its vegetation and animals. However bloodshed in Lebanon’s main town and the slaughter of its inhabitants was an even more serious crime. "Lebanon" is probably a synecdoche for Israel, as it is elsewhere (cf. 2 Kings 14:9; Jeremiah 22:6; Jeremiah 22:23), and "the town" most likely refers to Jerusalem.
"The Creator of the world has a concern for what is nowadays called ecology; the cultural mandate that he has given to the human race includes the responsible stewardship of plant and animal life." [Note: Bruce, p. 872.]
Habakkuk, like other prophets, saw through the folly of idolatry and exposed it (cf. Isaiah 41:7; Isaiah 44:9-20; Isaiah 45:16; Isaiah 45:20; Isaiah 46:1-2; Isaiah 46:6-7; Jeremiah 10:8-16). An idol carved by human hands cannot help its maker because anyone who creates is always greater than his creation. Images really become teachers of falsehood since their existence implies a lie, namely, that they can help humans. An idol-carver trusts his own handiwork by making it. Idols cannot even speak much less provide help (cf. Romans 1:22-25).
"Modern people in their sophistications may regard themselves as free from the obvious folly of idolatry. What educated, self-respecting person would be deluded into expecting special powers to emanate from the form of an antiquated Idol? Yet the new covenant Scriptures make it plain that covetousness is idolatry (Ephesians 5:5). Whenever a person’s desire looks to the creature rather than the Creator, he is guilty of the same kind of foolishness. An insatiable desire for things not rightly possessed assumes that things can satisfy rather than God himself. Whenever a person sets his priorities on the things made rather than on the Maker of things, he is guilty of idolatry." [Note: Robertson, p. 209.]
"Famous people are the ’idols’ of millions, especially politicians, athletes, wealthy tycoons, and actors and actresses. Even dead entertainers like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elvis Presley still have their followers. People may also worship and serve man-made things like cars, houses, boats, jewelry, and art. While all of us appreciate beautiful and useful things, it’s one thing to own them and quite something else to be owned by them. Albert Schweitzer said, ’Anything you have that you cannot give away, you do not really own; it owns you.’ I’ve met people who so idolize their children and grandchildren that they refused to let them consider giving their lives for Christian service.
"Social position can be an idol and so can vocation achievement. For some people, their god is their appetite (Philippians 3:19; Romans 16:18); and they live only to experience carnal pleasures [including following their favorite sports?]. Intellectual ability can be a terrible idol (2 Corinthians 10:5) as people worship their IQ and refuse to submit to God’s Word." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 418.]
Judgment for idolatry 2:18-20
The Lord pronounced woe on those who ignorantly tried to coax their dumb idols, wood or stone perhaps overlaid with gold or silver, to speak (cf. 1 Kings 18:26-29). No matter what they looked like or out of what material they were made, they were still only lifeless objects of art. How foolish it was to look to one of these as one’s teacher or guide!
In contrast to lifeless idols stands the living and true God. Yahweh lived in His heavenly temple, not in the works of human hands. Therefore all the earth, everything in it, should be quiet before Him out of respect and awe (fear; cf. Habakkuk 2:1; Habakkuk 3:16). There is no need to try and coax Him to come to life or to speak (cf. Habakkuk 2:19).
"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." [Note: Baker, p. 68.]
The implication of Yahweh’s majestic sovereignty is that He would take care of Babylon; the Israelites did not have to concern themselves with that (cf. Habakkuk 3:16).
"God sometimes uses evil people to accomplish His larger purpose in life. But He never condones evil, and those who do evil He holds accountable for their actions." [Note: Charles H. Dyer, in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 806.]
"The verse provides a bridge to the next major section of the prophecy in that it turns to the positive, looking at God, after the negative, attention to Babylon’s sin." [Note: Baker, p. 68.]
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Habakkuk 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
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