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Bible Commentaries
Habakkuk 2

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-20

Hab 2:1-20

JEHOVAH’S ANSWER . . . Habakkuk 2:1-20


Having presented what sounds to himself like a conclusive argument against God’s use of the Chaldeans to punish Judah, Habakkuk now declares he will simply stand and wait for Jehovah’s answer. We do not know what answer he expected. Perhaps he thought Jehovah would acquiesce, as He did when Moses interceded following the unfaithfulness of the people shortly after the exodus. (Exodus 39:9 -ff) In any event, the answer was not long in coming. The prophet is to write the vision (which is how the book of Habakkuk came into being). He is to make it plain upon tables. National dealings were engraved upon wooden tables covered with wax. The engraving was made with a hot iron writing instrument and the plaque—or tablet thus engraved was hung in public in the temple. (cp. Luke 1:63) It is to be written so plainly that one running past could read it without stopping. The idea seems to be that whoever reads the tablet engraved with God’s answer to Habakkuk’s complaint will run to whomever he can with the news. “Run” is used elsewhere for the urgent announcing of God’s revealed truth. (cp. Jeremiah 23:21, Revelation 22:17) In view of modern insistence upon the same complaints against God, it would seem that we too should adopt a sense of urgency. God’s answer is still valid. Men need to know it now as in the day of the prophet.

Zerr: The preceding chapter closes with the plea of the prophet to put a stop to the wicked business of the enemy. Habakkuk 2:1 represents him as waiting at his post of duty and listening to hear what the Lord will say to him in response. Watch is a short term for watchtower, because prophets were regarded as watchmen on the walls of Zion and looking out for the welfare of the people (Ezekiel 3:17). The prophet is watching and sees the enemy approaching (with his prophetic eye) and has reported it to his great Commander-in-chief and wants to know what is to be done about it. Habakkuk 2:2 begins the Lord’s answer to the prophet’s inquiry. He is instructed to make it plain which is tram BAAR, defined in the lexicon, "A primitive root; to dig; by analogy to engrave." Tables is from LUACH which Strong defines, "To glisten; a tablet (as polished), of stone, wood or metal." The means of advertisement were not very plentiful in ancient times, and public notices were supposed to be so arranged that all could know about it. Habakkuk 2:2 means that Habakkuk was to select a writing tablet or plate and engrave the announcement upon it. He was to engrave the words on this plate and display it in a conspicuous place. Then a man running by could read it as he was passing very much as a traveler today can read the road signs as he is driving along.

(Habakkuk 2:3) The message is to be committed to writing because the fulfillment of what is said lies in the future, from the point of view of those who first read it. “Write it down just as you receive it,” says God, in effect, “then see if it doesn’t happen just this way.” In this verse is stated a point which needs to be imprinted indelibly on the mind of anyone who ever doubted the divine inspiration of Scripture. What God said and the prophets wrote about the cataclysmic events of history was written well in advance of the events themselves. That these predictions were fulfilled to the letter years, sometimes centuries, later is conclusive proof to any honest scholar that they were not of human origin.

Zerr: The gist of Habakkuk 2:3 is that some time will pass by before the prediction is fulfilled, but it is sure to come and the people should be expecting it.

The predictive element of prophecy was one of the strongest evidences offered by the apostles of the truth of the Gospel. (e.g. Acts 2:22 -ff) A generation ago it was the fad arming the critics of the Bible to say that the predictive prophecies of the Bible were actually written after the fact, but recent scholarship, even of the most liberal persuasion, tends to accept the traditional dates of Scriptural writings. These dates place all predictive prophecies well before its fulfillment. What God answers here, in reply to Habakkuk’s second question, is a case in point. Having answered the first question with a prediction of Judah’s punishment at the hands of the Chaldeans, He answers the second by predicting the destruction of the Chaldeans themselves by the Persians! The years of Babylonian captivity will make the fulfillment of this vision seem to tarry. Nevertheless, those who read are to wait for it. It will surely come. It will not delay.

(Habakkuk 2:4-5) Jehovah begins His answer by setting forth a general principle. Whoever is puffed up in his own soul (whether Jew or Chaldean) will be punished. “The righteous,” whether Jew or Chaldean (Paul will later say “to the Jew first but also to the Greek,” Romans 1:16-17) “shall live by faith.” The contrast of the Bible between the godly and the ungodly is set forth in verse four in bold relief. It is not a contrast between “good” and “bad” per se but between the haughty soul who sets his will against that of God on the one hand and the one who lives by faith on the other. The New Testament will make this contrast even more sharply in terms of the carnal as opposed to the Spirit-directed. (e.g. Galatians 5:16-25).

Zerr: Lifted up (Habakkuk 2:4) is said in the sense of pride, something that the Lord abhors as not being the proper spirit of an upright man. Such a principle will not direct anyone In the way pleasing to Him. Instead, the man who will live or be in the favor of God is one who shall live by faith and who is not prompted tn conduct by pride. Habakkuk 2:5 and a number of verses following describe some characteristics of the Chaldeans who were destined finally to come against Judah. Neither keepeth at home indicates the practice of that heathen nation in seeking further territory to subdue. In the pursuit of such a desire it gathers unto him all nations. This explains the motive that Babylon had in subduing Judah although it was the decree of God that his people be taken into that captivity. But since the motive was wrong, the Lord was determined to punish that heathen nation, which accounts for these verses against it.

A word needs to be said here concerning the statement “the righteous shall live by his faith.” As indicated above, Paul alludes to this Statement in Romans 1:17. In so doing, he quotes the Septuagint. There the text reads literally “but the righteous, out of my faith shall be living.” The Greek of the New Testament in Romans 1:17 reads literally “but the righteous out of faith shall be living.” There is a minor textual problem here. The Hebrew text, as represented in our American Standard Version has “his” faith in Habakkuk 2:4. The Septuagint in the same place has “my” faith. Paul’s Greek omits both possessive pronouns and says simply “by (not my or his) faith.”

The apostle has captured the essential truth of Habakkuk. In contrast to the overwhelming military might in which the Chaldeans trusted (Habakkuk 1:13-16) and the Assyrian-Egyptian alliance upon which Judah had based her national security, the righteous shall stake his life upon his trust in God. The Chaldeans would lay waste to Judah who trusted in Assyrian and Egyptian arms. Cyrus would one day bring the Chaldean empire of Babylon to her knees. Through it all, God would preserve His real people . . . the true Israel. (cf. discussion of Micah’s prophecy concerning the remnant.) Here is an eternal truth, and one God’s people in the closing decades of the twentieth century would do well to learn. God deals with people on the basis of obedient faith not on the basis of misplaced national loyalty and military power, whether Chaldean, Jewish or American!

(Habakkuk 2:6) There is an intriguing reference to wine here. The haughty, who depend on military might and alliances are pointed out as deceived by the treachery of it. When Babylon attacked Nineveh, the leaders of that city were indulging in a drunken revelry. When Babylon herself was taken, it was during Belshazzar’s feast when he dared drink wine from the golden vessels of the temple of Jehovah. (cf. Daniel 5:2-4; Daniel 5:30 cp. Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 30:9)

The United States may one day fail in her own defense while our leaders are enjoying themselves in the endless round of Washington cocktail parties. Of course one who objects to such things in our day is looked upon as being somewhat strange and fanatic . . . as were the prophets who tried in vain to warn Israel and Judah of the consequences of the same thing.

In Habakkuk 2:5 there begins a general description of those things characteristic of the Neo-Babylonian empire which carried in them the seed of the destruction that awaited her. Cocktail party diplomacy was only one of those characteristics. The empire is presented as a haughty man. Just as Judah’s pride went before her fall so would Babylon’s contribute to the downfall of the empire. Every ancient nation shared this weakness of pride. Each imagined itself to be the select or chosen people of a god who was superior to all other gods. This national deity would preserve his people and subordinate all other peoples to them. The Jews’ flirtation with Baal, along with certain other influences, made them mistake Jehovah for such a nationalistic god. This is why Habakkuk asked his second question (Habakkuk 1:12 -f), Such haughtiness blinds any nation to the realities of international life.

The second characteristic of Babylon which contributed to his (the haughty man’s) downfall was the inability to stay home. As Habakkuk pointed out (Habakkuk 1:14 -ff), the Chaldeans swept all people into their sphere of dominance as a fisherman snares a school of fish. Here Jehovah agrees with the prophet’s evaluation. The haughty man “enlarges his desire as Sheol.” Sheol is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek Hades; the abode of the dead. It is never full but always seems eager to receive more and more people. Babylon is like this. Just as death is never satisfied, so Babylon is never satisfied . . . always seeking more victims.

This is a fatal obsession for any nation. Every world conqueror, from Alexander (or those who divided his kingdom following his untimely death) to Hitler has learned too late that he cannot encompass the earth and successfully control it. A classic example is the British Empire. There was a time when Brittania could boast that the “sun never set on the Union Jack.” But it did not last. Today England is at best a second rate power. Even our own attempt to build a world wide economic empire has brought to us problems that seem insolvable and that threaten our national vitality beyond endurance.

The lust for power, as any other lust, carries in it the elements of its own death. (cf. James 1:15) It was indeed an attack upon Babylon by those who had once been her ally that brought the empire to destruction in the end. So Jehovah predicts that those whom the Chaldeans conquer will one day take up a parable (or taunt) against them. This taunt forms the first of a series of woes through which Jehovah answers Habakkuk’s second question.

THE FIRST WOE . . . Habakkuk 2:6-8

As God’s providential guidance of history will bring about Judah’s chastisement at the hands of the Chaldeans, so it will bring about, in turn, the destruction of the Chaldeans. Just how this is to come about is described in the woes which Jehovah now pronounces against them. The first woe is “to him that increaseth that which is not his.” To see this principle in operation against the Babylonians, we must bear in mind that Judah was not the only nation to fall prey to the Chaldean’s military expansionism. The Medes and Persians also came under the influence of Babylonian greed. And the time was not long in coming when they would together find the strength to do something very final about it. This uprising reached its climax c. 532 B.C. when Cyrus and his Persians in collusion with certain Babylonian clerics made Babylon subject to the enlightened domination of Persia. For two subsequent centuries Babylon was ruled by the Persians. God’s promise to Habakkuk, in answer to the prophet’s second question, is (Habakkuk 2:8) that this downfall of Babylon will be in punishment for her plundering and violence done not only to Judah but to other people as well.

Zerr: After the Babylonians have been overthrown the nations that were mistreated by them will rejoice in their downfall. They will return to the covetous practices of which they had been victims and consider them as reasons why the dreaded nation was itself conquered. Thick clay (Habakkuk 2:6) in the original is ABTIYT which Strong defines, "Something pledged. i.e. (collectively) pawned goods." Moffatt renders it "what he must repay." The passage means that when the Babylonian king seized the property of all these nations he was taking on a load that he would not always be able to carry. It is likened to a man who obligated himselt by pawning something that he would not be able to redeem. That was because God was going to bring the King of Babylon to account and he would not be able to meet it. Habakkuk 2:7 is in Question form, but it is a prediction that the nations that Babylon had depressed would rebound and take vengeance on it. Spoiled many nations (Habakkuk 2:8) refers to the plunder that the Babylonians took from the helpless countries.

THE SECOND WOE . . . Habakkuk 2:9-11.

The second in the series of woes pronounced against Babylon in answer to Habakkuk’s questioning is stated in Habakkuk 2:9-11. It emphasizes the covetousness of Babylon in her aggressions against other peoples. The covetousness is beyond the “normal” greed of an aggressor nation. It is so extreme as to be fatal not only to the invaded nations, but to the invader. Not content with national aggrandizement and the enriching of his own coffers, the ruler of Babylon steals enough from conquered peoples to enrich his whole nation or family. This is precisely the sin of Jehaiachem for which God raised up Babylon in punishment (cf. Jeremiah 22) It will also destroy Babylon in turn. The “nest on high” is figurative of the eagle (Job 39:27). Here it refers to the royal citadel. Babylon was famous for its towered ziggurats. To Babylon Jehovah says (Habakkuk 2:10) “Thou . . . hast sinned against thy soul.” The empire raised up by God thus becomes guilty of her own destruction. The very towers of Babylon, built by the blood of conquered peoples and supported by stolen loot, will cry out against her (Habakkuk 2:11). Her splendor is her downfall. Her glory is in her shame!

Zerr: The prophet now turns his writing into a general discussion at certain principles pertaining to the conduct of man (Habakkuk 2:9) and of God’s attitude toward the same. Coveteth an evil covetousness means to desire that which would be wrong to have. That which would make it wrong is his evil motive namely, that he might set his nest on high which means the act of self·exaltation or pride. Concerning such a person described in Habakkuk 2:9, the prophet charges him to have consulted shame (Habakkuk 2:10) which means that his conduct will bring on his house the shame of defeat. He has really sinned against his own soul or life because in the end he wlll be the loser. Stone and beam (Habakkuk 2:11) are inanimate objects and are used figuratively to represent the miraculous judgment that will come upon the man guilty or these wrongs.

THE THIRD WOE . . . Habakkuk 2:12-14

The third woe, pronounced in Habakkuk 2:12-14, is brought about by the extreme cruelty of Babylon. Like her covetousness, her mercilessness against conquered people also contains the fatal poison of the empire. This blood-thirstiness of Babylon was infamous throughout the ancient world. John uses it, as a familiar fact, in the symbolism of Revelation. (Revelation 17:6) Those who are now laboring to build Babylon are laboring for the fire. (Habakkuk 2:11) That is, they are simply erecting those things which will be burned in the destruction of the city.

The significant truth here, for the sake of the prophet’s question, is that it is of Jehovah of hosts. The moral principles which bring about the rise and fall of people and nations in the flow of history are not accidental. Neither are they the product of any process of social evolution. These principles are fixed by God. They are the same from age to age in all of man’s international relationships. The nation which fails to recognize them and govern itself accordingly may expect to join all previous empires on the rubble heap of dead civilizations! There is a purpose to God’s rigid insistence that nations as well as men recognize and submit to His moral judgements. (Habakkuk 2:14) “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah . . .”

Zerr: It is right to build towns for habitations of needy people, but it is wrong to do so by violence (Habakkuk 2:12) against other helpless men. The Lord has decreed that all who pursue such wicked courses for gain shall find themselves laboring in vain (Habakkuk 2:13). Their own practices wlll turn out to be as a fire about them that will destroy all their evil labors. The general knowledge of God’s glory (Habakkuk 2:14) was to come to the nations when He brought the mighty Chaldean power into subjection. But we can see a greater fulfillment of the prediction in the universal distribution of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15 ; Romans 10:18 ; Colossians 1:23).

A word about “glory” may be helpful here. The term itself means literally “the essential nature” of a person. God’s glory is His essential character i.e. that which causes Him to be held in high repute among those who know Him. By dealing with men and nations on the basis of fixed moral laws, Jehovah is revealing Himself to them. That nations are more often than not blind to this truth is to their detriment, not His!

Just as surely as God was preparing for the coming Christ by revealing Himself to Israel through the prophets and His written word, so He was preparing the nations for Christ through His dealings in history. That both Israel and the Gentile nations failed to learn what Jehovah taught simply underscores man’s universal need for salvation. It certainly is not, as Habakkuk’s questions would imply, and as modern agnostics insist, an indictment against God as unfair or unjust.

THE FOURTH WOE . . . Habakkuk 2:15-17

The fourth woe, with which Jehovah answers the prophet’s second question, has to do with the drunkenness of the Babylonians. We have already remarked briefly on this. (see above on Habakkuk 2:5) Against the practice of excessive drinking in Babylon, God sets in figurative speech the downfall of the empire. Babylon is pictured here as a drunken man. He is not only drunken himself, but like most drunkards, he influences others to share in his revelings. The accusation is that the drinker shares the drink in order to look on his neighbor’s nakedness. There is no genuineness of friendship here. Babylon only pretends to share “the good life” so as to lure his neighbors into alliances which will ultimately expose them to loss and shame.

Zerr: The Bible teaches that a drunkard will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10). so that such a character will be condemned for his own act. And Hebrews 2:15 condemns those who encourage or induce others to drink. It is especially to be condemned when the motive is as low as indicated in Hebrews 2:15. The statement gives us an additional thought, namely, that when a man is drunk, his mentality is depressed and he Is rendered unreliable in his actions and judgment.

Proud Babylon, the drunk, is himself not filled with glory as he supposes. His own nakedness is exposed and it is revealed to all the world that he is uncircumcised. He is not God’s covenant people! God will do to Babylon what Babylon has done to others. He will allow the empire to become corrupt to the extent that “foul shame” (literally vomit) will cover its glory. Ironically, Babylon’s final collapse came in the midst of a drunken revel. (Daniel 5) The imagery here is very appropriate!

Zerr: As a degradIng suggestion befitting the character of such a tempter, he is told to drink with his intended victim and thus be induced to expose his own nakedness. Shame for glory (Habakkuk 2:16) is rendered "more with shame than with glory" in the margIn which is evidently correct. The tempter intended to get glory from the shame of his victim, but instead he was destined to bring shame upon himself. The cup Is figurative and means the cup of God’s wrath against such an evil character. He was to be forced to drink of it and be thereby induced to vomit out his own filth instead of glorying over the debauched condition of his victim.

In Habakkuk 2:17 the figure changes. From describing Babylon as a shameful drunk, Jehovah turns to describing him as a beast caught in a net trap. “The violence done to Lebanon” reminds us that Lebanon was the gateway to Judah for the armies of Babylon. Also that the temple destroyed by the Babylonians was built of the cedars of Lebanon. Just as men threatened repeatedly by the incursion of wild beasts become driven by fear to destroy the beasts, so Babylon’s neighbors, subjected repeatedly to the brutalities of Babylon will one day be driven to destroy him.

Zerr: Violence of Lebanon (Habakkuk 2:17). The violence of Lebanon or the city of Jerusalem means that which was intended against the holy territory. But such violence was to rebound and cover the wicked nation or king who designed such drastic actions.

THE FIFTH WOE . . . Habakkuk 2:18-20

The fifth woe against Babylon is introduced by a question (Habakkuk 2:18). “What,” Jehovah asks, “is the profit of a graven image even to the one who makes it?” As with all nations of ancient time, Babylon created gods in their own image and then relied upon these gods of their own making to lead, empower and preserve them. It is the futility of this practice that God points to in this woe. Not only the covetousness and bloody violence of Babylon will contribute to the overthrow of the empire. The trust in man-made gods also will conspire to bring it about. The god in which they trust is dead, “There is no breath in all the midst of it.” Because they serve a dead god; they too shall die!

Zerr: . The weakness and foolishness of idolatry is the subject of Habakkuk 2:18-19. Teacher of lies. Every expectation that an idol seems to offer its maker is a He. Man made the idol and therefore it could not possess any wisdom or power that man does not already have and so It could contribute nothing to him.

“Christian America” woke one day a few years ago to hear on television and read in major publications that “God Is Dead!” Perhaps there was more truth to the pronouncement than we realized. The gods of Roman and Protestant institutionalism . . . the god of economic materialism . . . the god of permissiveness and pleasure . . . the whole American pantheon is dead. Perhaps as we need to learn from the first four woes, so we need to learn from the fifth. The nation is doomed who worships a dead god!

In contrast (Habakkuk 2:20) to the dead god of Babylon, Jehovah is in His holy temple. Strange words, since the temple would, when the vision of Habakkuk came to pass, be in ruins. The obvious intent is that God does indeed not dwell in temples made with hands, whether those hands be Jewish or Babylonian.

Zerr: Silence (Habakkuk 2:20) is defined as "hush" in the lexicon. The servants of God are everywhere encouraged to sing and speak their praises of Him which would not seem like silence. The thought is to show a contrast with the foolishness of idolatry and the wisdom at an intelligent Deity. An idol is only a teacher of lies and should not be listened to. The Lord is in his rightful place, the temple (Habakkuk 2:20), and on the throne of the universe. Therefore when He speaks it is the truth and all the earth should be hushed and with reverent ears receive the divine words.

A brief listing of the five woes may be helpful:

1. (Habakkuk 2:6) Woe to him who increases his possession of that which is not his.

2. (Habakkuk 2:9) Woe to him who gets evil gain in order to set himself above others.

3. (Habakkuk 2:12) Woe to him who builds his great cities on the suffering of downtrodden people.

4. (Habakkuk 2:14) Woe to him who involves others in his sin in order to exploit them.

5. (Habakkuk 2:19) Woe to those who worship dead gods.

These woes reveal eternal truth which explains in varying degrees the downfall of every collapsed civilization.


The Second Question

1. Show how God’s answer to Habakkuk’s first question gave rise to the second question.

2. State the prophet’s second question in your own words.

3. Show how the Jews’ misconception of themselves as God’s people is reflected in Habakkuk’s second question.

4. What two concepts did the Jews find hard to grasp? (As stated by Dr. Maurice Harris)

5. Show how Nahum’s question to Nineveh (Nahum 3:8) could be asked here of Judah.

6. What do you understand is the Biblical doctrine of “election?”

7. How does dispensationalism pervert the doctrine of election?

8. What word more accurately states the idea of election?

9. What is implied by Habakkuk’s use of the term “O Rock” in reference to Jehovah?

10. What two fallacies combine to confuse Habakkuk in reference to God’s purity and Babylon’s impurity?

11. Describe the activity of the Babylonians toward neighboring nations.

12. In a sentence, what is Jehovah’s answer to Habakkuk’s second question?

13. List the five woes with which God gives His answer.

14. Show how these woes describe eternal principles in God’s dealing with nations in history.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Habakkuk 2". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/habakkuk-2.html.
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