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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Habakkuk 2

 

 

Verses 1-5

Habakkuk Looks Anxiously For The Answer To His Questions (Habakkuk 2:1-5)

Habakkuk 2:1

‘I will stand on my watch,

And settle myself on the tower,

And look out to see what he will say to me,

And what I will answer, to do with my complaint.’

Having questioned first why God has not dealt with His people’s sinfulness, and then questioned God’s method of dealing with that sinfulness on the grounds of the unworthiness of the instruments being used, he now declares that he will be on watch for God’s reply.

He will be like a sentry on watch peering through the darkness, hoping to find an answer. Yes, he will settle down on the watchtower. He will wait to see what God has further to say about his complaint, and then he will consider his answer.

Habakkuk 2:2

‘And YHWH answered me and said, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.” ’

God replies that He will give the answer in a vision and that he must take his reply and record it on tablets so that messengers may carry it far and wide. It is messengers who read a tablet and then run.

Or the idea might have been to write it in large tablets for public display (compare Isaiah 8:1; Isaiah 30:8), large enough for even those who ran by, or those who were in a hurry, to read what was said.

Habakkuk 2:3

“For the vision is yet for the appointed time,

And it pants towards the end, and will not lie.

Though it tarry (come not quickly), wait for it,

Because it will surely come, it will not delay.”

God assures Habakkuk that the vision He is about to give him will be fulfilled in its appointed time. Indeed it is in such a hurry to reach the appointed time that it is panting. Nevertheless it may seem to be delayed, but he must wait for it, because it will definitely come. It will not be delayed.

Habakkuk 2:4

“Behold, his soul is puffed up. It is not upright within him. But the just shall live in his faithfulness (or ‘his faith’).”

While he is waiting for the answer God contrasts the attitude of those whom He has spoken about and whom he is again about to describe, with the attitude of the truly righteous. He assures him that he knows exactly what the king of Babylon, with his people, are like. The one who has subjugated the nations and whose judgment is about to be announced is puffed up. He is arrogant and boastful. He is not upright, or behaving rightly. He is decidedly in the wrong. Therefore he too will receive what he deserves.

‘But the just shall live in his faithfulness.’ On the other hand the righteous man is the exact opposite of the puffed up oppressor. He has faith in God, and is faithful to His covenant. Here is the secret of successful living in the face of all doubt and tribulation. Whatever happens and whatever God’s answer, the righteous will live because of his faith, and in his faithfulness. He is confident in God. The idea of ‘live’ here is more than just remain alive. He will live a fulfilled life, a life with God (compare Ezekiel 33:10-19, where to ‘live’, while containing an element of not dying, also seems to add a similar qualitative factor).

It is, however important to recognise what this means. It is not in his righteousness that he will live, but through his faith which results in his faithfulness, his faithful acceptance of and response to the covenant. What will give him life is His true response to the God of the covenant. This consists of a right attitude of trust and love towards God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5), which results in a loving response to His requirements, both ritual and moral. As God’s covenant offered to Israel at Sinai made clear, they must first believe His promise to be their Saviour (Exodus 20:2), and then they must respond to it fully and faithfully. Faith and faithfulness to the covenant are both sides of the same coin. So here we may translate both ‘faith’ and ‘faithfulness’, for it includes both. (We have no word that is similar). And yet faith precedes faithfulness, for it is the essence of it. A man is faithful because of what he has faith in.

It is the attitude of Abraham. ‘Abraham believed in God and He counted it to him for righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6). He exercised personal faith. He believed in Him, he believed in His promises, he believed His covenant. And he responded to it. And God counted this response of faith as righteousness, as putting Abraham in a right relationship with God, simply because he looked up to God and believed Him. And it was the fact of his believing that He counted for righteousness, not his final response, although that naturally followed his belief. They were both part of the whole.

Deuteronomy 32:20 also makes clear that faith was important in relation to the covenant, although usually being expressed as ‘covenant love’ (chesed). Covenant love was the outward expression of faith. You do not love someone you do not wholeheartedly believe in. Compare also Psalms 78:22 where Israel are rebuked because they did not believe in God and trust in His salvation (compare also Psalms 116:9-10; Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 43:10). Thus faithfulness in Habakkuk has a similar meaning. They believed in God and trusted in Him and in His deliverance and responded with faithful lives, lives faithful to the covenant.

This verse was later taken by Paul in its LXX rendering pistis to signify, ‘the righteous by faith will live’ (Galatians 3:11; Romans 1:17 see also Hebrews 10:38). He recognised the heart of the matter. Life comes through faith in God as a result of the sacrifice of Christ (or in the case of Habakkuk’s day, through faith in God as a result of the means of atonement that God had provided).

And he recognised too that faith is something a man cannot ‘do’. He is aware of something and he either believes or he does not. He cannot choose to believe. That is why when Jesus told men that they could be saved through believing He was not saying that they could be saved through anything that they could do, He was rather telling them that if there was a response of faith in their hearts it was evidence that they would be saved. God had drawn them and their response of faith demonstrated that God had done a work in their hearts producing their faith. It was all of God.

This is central to God’s message to Habakkuk. It was both a gentle rebuke and an enlightening. A gentle rebuke because Habakkuk had for a moment lost sight of the centrality of faith and trust in his relationship with, and life with, God, and enlightenment because it centred on what was truly important in an uncertain world. Habakkuk did believe, but he had forgotten for a moment what kind of God he believed in. The true believer trusts in the dark, even when he does not understand. He recognises that God’s ways are beyond his understanding, but must be right in the end. And thus he is faith-full, his faith responds in obedience. It is similar to the trust of a small child in his father, once it is established it is unquestioning because he knows that Daddy knows everything and is always right.

In the New Testament Paul take part of this verse as signifying justification by faith, ‘The just shall live by faith’. This was to make use of LXX. But the idea is the same (and unites James and Paul). The man who truly believes will be faithful. Thus the faithful man is the true believer.

Habakkuk 2:5

“Yes, moreover, wine is a treacherous dealer,

A haughty man, and which does not keep at home.

Which enlarges his desire as the grave,

And he is as death and cannot be satisfied,

But gathers to him all nations,

And heaps to him all peoples.”

This verse refers back to Habakkuk 2:4 a, the one whose soul was puffed up and not upright within him. This partly explains why it was so. He is a man of wine. Here wine, and its consequences, is contrasted with faith. In contrast with the man who lives by faith in God is the man or nation who trust in wine for their deliverance (compare Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 28:3). Certainly Israel saw the really dedicated believers as avoiding wine (Numbers 6:3; Amos 2:12; Jeremiah 35:2-14 compare Leviticus 10:9). For wine is treacherous and deceives (Isaiah 28:7). It causes men to be puffed up. It haughtily ignores all argument, all justice and all decency (Isaiah 5:22-23). It causes men to err and not be upright (Proverbs 20:1). It is the opposite of faithfulness.

The king who lets himself be influenced by wine becomes expansive in his behaviour (compare Psalms 78:65), he does not stay at home (compare Proverbs 23:30), his desire is enlarged so that it cannot be satisfied. He seeks to grasp everything for himself, and make them drink his wine (Habakkuk 2:15; Jeremiah 51:7). Nations become his playthings. Whether the references to the underworld and death are just examples of what is insatiable, or whether the thought is that he gorges himself on slaughter is an open question. but Habakkuk 2:8 might suggest the latter.

And when God would bring his judgment on men and nations He does so as through wine (Psalms 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15-16). So the wine man drinks is symbolic of his coming judgment (see Habakkuk 2:16).

Thus Habakkuk appears to see the king of Babylon as such a man driven by wine, (Jeremiah 51:7 compares Babylon to a wine goblet, making the nations drink of their wine, and thus can be defined in terms of wine). It is his sustenance and driving force, driving him forward to his conquests. It makes his desire for slaughter as wide as the underworld, the world of the dead (Sheol), and like death itself he can never have sufficient victims. (Alternately these may simply be examples of his expansive conquests). For the thought of wine as man’s god see Micah 2:11, and for its effect on a Babylonian king and his nobles see Daniel 5:4 where it resulted in false worship and blasphemy. Perhaps Habakkuk saw all great kings in this light (see also in general Hosea 7:5; Hosea 4:11; Jeremiah 51:7).

The word for ‘wine’ is ha-yyayin. Some have suggested reading as something like hayyoneh (possibly a waw having been at some time misread as a yod ), ‘the oppressor’, but it is not necessary.


Verses 6-8

The First Woe (Habakkuk 2:6-8).

Habakkuk 2:6-8

‘Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, saying,

‘Woe to him who increases what is not his. How long?

And who loads himself with pledges.’

Shall not those who will bite you rise up suddenly,

And those awake who will vex you, and you will be for booties to them?

Because you have spoiled many nations,

All the remnant of the peoples will spoil you,

Because of men’s blood, and for the violence done to the land,

To the city and to all who dwell in it.’

God’s first reply to Habakkuk’s question had been the need for faith and a faithful response to God by those who believed in him, thus obtaining life. Here is God’s second reply as revealed to him, expressed in a taunt song against the king of Babylon. The oppressor will become the oppressed. It is the first of a number of ‘woes’.

Woe to him because he increases what is not his. Compare the description of Babylon as those who possess dwelling places that are not theirs (Habakkuk 1:6). The question must then be ‘how long? How long can God allow this to go on? How long will it be before Babylon is judged?

Woe to him who loads himself with pledges, pledges of tribute and fines and obedience to the gods of Babylon to be paid by the nations. The only final result will be that these people will suddenly creep on him and bite him, like a snake or a wild animal. They will stir themselves up and vex him. They in turn will take booty from him, siding with the Medes and Persians against him. Because he has plundered many nations, and shed masses of blood, and shown violence to their lands, those who are left will get their revenge.

‘To the city and to all who dwell in it.’ This probably means cities in general seen as one, but has possibly special reference to what he will do to the city of Jerusalem and those who live in it. He may be God’s instrument in chastening and punishing them, but that does not excuse his behaviour towards them.

The overall warning for us is against building up treasures for ourselves on earth. Rather we should build up treasures in Heaven where they are permanent and everlasting (Matthew 6:19-20).


Verses 6-20

The Five Woes of God (Habakkuk 2:6-20).

God now outlines to Habakkuk how He is going to finally punish Babylon for what it is, and the wonderful blessing to the whole world which will come from His actions, fully justifying in the long run His use of the Babylonians to chasten Israel.

There are here five woes (and we should note the way in which they can personally apply to us):

· Woe to the plunderer, the one who makes himself rich at the expense of others.

· Woe to the greedy and proud, the one who wants only to build up more and more for himself of wealth and status.

· Woe to the one who builds up great cities at the cost of the blood and enslavement of men and women. That is in our terms one who builds up his own assets at the expense of others.

· Woe to the one who makes people drunk so that they behave foolishly, giving them cheap wine so that they expose their follies. The initial thought is of the bribing and leading astray of nations, but it equally applies on the personal level.

· Woe to the one who goes after idols. Or indeed anything that takes away their thoughts from the living God.

All these of course included and represented Babylon and its king. They are a picture of a desire for wealth and glory at any price, without any regard for the victims.

And there are five who bear witness against him (in the same way as our works will testify against us at the last Day).

· The land and treasure he has purloined, (compare James 5:1-4).

· The high palace in which he glories (compare Daniel 4:30-33).

· The great city which he has built.

· The violence done to those who have suffered at his hand.

· The lifeless idols without breath in them in which he trusted.

And there are five consequences. These bring out two things. Firstly that whatever a man sows he will also reap, and secondly that God often uses man’s perfidy in order to bring about His own purposes. Thus he describes:

· The retaliation and vengeance on him of those who have been dispossessed.

· The crying out of the stones and timber drawing attention to his overweening pride.

· The filling of the earth with the knowledge of the glory of YHWH because of what God has done in bringing down Babylon.

· The chastisement of Judah and Jerusalem because they have followed the way of Babylon.

· The revealing of YHWH in His holy temple with all the earth silent before Him in awe, as all Babylon’s idols have proved to be worthless and lifeless.

Should not Habakkuk then recognise that these ends make worthwhile all that has gone before? These are God’s explanation to Habakkuk of the reason for His using Babylon as the chastener.

One question that immediately raises its head as we look at the five woes is as to who the speakers are. ‘Shall not all these take up a saying against him --.?’ Who then are ‘all these? The probable answer it that it is Habakkuk himself speaking on behalf of the nations, not strictly as they would speak, but as he ideally sees them as speaking. He is speaking on their behalf as though they saw things from God’s viewpoint.

Let us now consider in detail the five woes.


Verses 9-11

The Second Woe (Habakkuk 2:9-11).

Habakkuk 2:9-11

‘Woe to him who obtains an evil gain for his house, that he may set his nest high up, that he may be delivered from the hand of evil. You have devised shame to your house, by cutting off many people, and have sinned against your soul. For the stone will cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber will answer it.’

The second woe concentrates on his obtaining evil gain for himself and his house. With it he exalts himself, building on heights that he may dwell secure, where evil, the evil that he visits on others, cannot reach him. By his planning he has devised shame to his house, because it has resulted in him cutting off many peoples, with the consequence that God will have to deal with him. And this is also a sin against his own soul. He is personally marred and guilty. For these verses compare Jeremiah 22:13-17 which may have been influenced by this passage.

The result is declared in vivid terms. The house he has built for himself will shout out his guilt. The stones in the wall will cry out, and the timber will answer them. His great palace of such majesty will sufficiently reveal his guilt and draw all men’s attention to it.

And so will all that we do from a selfish motive speak against us in the last Day.


Verses 12-14

The Third Woe (Habakkuk 2:12-14).

Habakkuk 2:12-14

‘Woe to him who builds a town with blood,

And establishes a city by iniquity.

Behold is it not of YHWH that the peoples labour for the fire,

And the nations weary themselves for vanity?

For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of YHWH,

As the waters cover the sea.’

The third woe stresses his murderous and evil behaviour. Babylon has been built on the blood of the slain and the sufferings of the nations. But it will not stand for ever. Those who have been forced to build it, often in much pain and suffering, are but building it in readiness for the fire that will burn it down. All their efforts, and slaves from many peoples would have been involved in its building and restoration, will be finally vanity (uselessness) for it will be destroyed. And will it not be YHWH Who has done it? Compare here Jeremiah 22:13; Jeremiah 22:17; Micah 3:10, where Jerusalem is guilty of something similar.

There is a reminder here to all who build up their own or their company’s wealth in blood, sweat and tears. God sees what we do, and the cries of the misused reach up to Him (James 5:4), and one day He will require it of us.

And the result of its destruction by fire will be that great glory will come to YHWH, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of His glory as the waters cover the sea (compare Isaiah 11:9 from where Habakkuk partly obtained this idea). Babylon the Great will fall (Isaiah 13:19-22; Revelation 17-18). And by it great glory will be His.

This was not fulfilled in the way that Habakkuk probably expected, and it would be many centuries before the two were connected, but it was fulfilled nevertheless. Today peoples around the world know of His glory, and know what He did to Babylon. In Abraham’s seed all the world has been blessed through the knowledge of Christ. And through His word all know of the defeat of Babylon which precipitated the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, and of the later destruction of the first Great Babylon, so that it became a mound and a heap, proof of the certainty of the judgment of God, and of its even greater destruction yet to come at the judgment, where it sums up the cities of the world. Beginning from Babel Babylon has always symbolised the world in opposition to God.


Verses 15-17

The Fourth Woe (Habakkuk 2:15-17)..

Habakkuk 2:15

‘Woe to him who gives his neighbour drink,

Adding your wrath to him,

And makes him drunk as well,

In order that you may look on their nakedness.’

The fourth woe concerns the fact that Babylon led astray other nations besides herself. It is pictured in terms of wine and drunkenness.

This expands the thought in Habakkuk 2:5. Not only is the great king drunk with his sin, but he gives the same to his subjected peoples, that they might drink, and share in the wrath of God that will be poured out on him (Jeremiah 51:7; Psalms 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15-16). They are made drunk in sin as well as him. Thus all of them are revealed as naked before YHWH. (Habakkuk may especially have had in mind here Genesis 9:20-27, an incident of great shame revealing man’s sinful weakness). The king has forced others into his own sinful and evil ways.

To ‘look on their nakedness’ is to see them laid bare so that their sins and their shame and their mere humanity are openly apparent, so that they are seen to have no excuse. ‘All things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13; compare Genesis 2:25; Isaiah 47:3; Micah 1:11; Nahum 3:5).

This is a reminder that we all need to consider what the effects of our actions might be on others. There is also a reminder here of the dangers of the misuse of strong drink.

Habakkuk 2:16

‘You are filled with shame for glory.

You also drink and be as one uncircumcised.

The cup of YHWH’s right hand will be turned to you,

And foul shame will be on your glory.’

But it is not only other nations that are affected. Jerusalem and Judah are included, for they are now addressed. They too have been affected, ‘they will become as one uncircumcised’. They who should have been glorious in YHWH will instead be filled with shame. Becoming like Babylon and the other nations they will forsake the covenant. Thus they will become as though they were not circumcised. For to them circumcision was the seal of the covenant. The result is that they too will drink of the cup of YHWH’s right hand, that is, of His most powerful hand. And the glory that was Jerusalem’s as the holy city will instead be replaced by foul shame.

Sadly this was indeed what they did descend into on the death of Josiah. The influence of Babylon soon manifested itself and resulted in many of the infamies described by Ezekiel in his prophecy (e.g. Ezekiel 8:6-18). Thus they too would drink of the cup of YHWH’s right hand, His manifested judgment, which would finally result in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Babylon had a lot to answer for.

Habakkuk 2:17

‘For the violence done to Lebanon will cover (or ‘overwhelm’) you,

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 all who dwell in it.’

At the approach of the advancing Babylonian army Lebanon would suffer first. But what would be done to Lebanon was a picture of what would also be done to Judah and Jerusalem. They would suffer the same violence as Lebanon. (Lebanon came first as Nebuchadnezzar descended from the north in his conquest of the area). They will be ‘covered’ or ‘overwhelmed’.

And Lebanon would be made especially afraid because of the huge slaughter of their cattle and sheep, which would demonstrate the savageness of Nebuchadnezzar’s troops. The same would be true for Judah and Jerusalem. Little would be left to them. The armies of Nebuchadnezzar would certainly need provisions, and they would provision themselves by using whatever was available, but some of the slaughter was no doubt carried out to teach them a hard lesson for their rebellion, and was also for the very purpose of frightening them into submission. Men would be slaughtered as well, men’s blood would be spilled, and so the fear would be multiplied, because of the shedding of men’s blood, because of the destruction of cattle and sheep, and because of the violence done to the trees and vegetation (the violence done to the land). And on top of this was the destruction of their city and all who dwelt in it.

So God’s chastening of His rebellious and sinful people would be fulfilled. To find the full extent of their sinfulness at this time we need to turn to Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Society had become violent and corrupt, on top of being idolatrous. The two aspects went together.


Verses 18-20

The Fifth Woe (Habakkuk 2:18-20).

Habakkuk 2:18-20

‘What does it profit the graven image that his maker has graven it,

The molten image, even the teacher of lies,

That the maker of his work trusts in it,

So that he makes dumb idols?

Woe to him who says to the wood, “Awake.”

To the dumb stone, “Arise.”

Will this teach? Behold it is laid over with silver and gold,

And there is no breath at all within it.

But YHWH is in His holy temple.

Let all the earth keep silence before him.’

The final woe is over men’s idolatry. What profit is there for a graven image or a molten image that its maker has made it? It is a dead thing without consciousness, and remains so. It does not appreciate what has been done. And yet the maker trusts in these teachers of lies. That is indeed why he makes dumb idols. He has confidence in them (in contrast with the righteous who have confidence in YHWH - Habakkuk 2:4). And yet they are teachers of lies because men read into them what is untrue, and their priests declare falsehoods to them.

‘Woe to him who says to the wood, “Awake.” To the dumb stone, “Arise.” Will this teach? Behold it is laid over with silver and gold, and there is no breath at all within it.’ The picture is one of the idol maker futilely saying to the wooden thing, ‘Awake’. And to the dumb stone. ‘Arise’. Vainly he seeks to stir them into action (compare 1 Kings 18:26-27), but there is no answer. Will they teach him? The answer is ‘no’. All he will learn through them is falsehood. The image may have been clothed magnificently in silver and gold, but it has no breath at all within it (see Jeremiah 10:14; Psalms 135:15-17; Isaiah 41:7; Isaiah 44:9-20; Isaiah 45:16; Isaiah 45:20; Isaiah 46:1-2; Isaiah 46:6-7; ). For only YHWH can breathe life into His creation.

‘Woe to him.’ For it can only lead him away from God into sin, meaninglessness and judgment. The New Testament makes clear that it also brings him under Satan (1 Corinthians 10:20). The folly of such images, made to represent humans, animals, fish, birds and creeping things is brought out well in Romans 1:18-23. They look to created things and not to the Creator. Modern man may pride himself that he does not indulge in such folly. Instead he looks to and worships skyscrapers, wealth, success, fame, pop idols, sportsmen and their clubs, and such like. They too are creaturely things not worthy of man’s adoration.

‘But YHWH is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him.’ It is unlikely that Habakkuk had a lesser view of God than Solomon. He knew that God would not dwell in an earthly house, that even the heaven of heavens could not contain Him, thus how much less a house built with human hands (1 Kings 8:27; see also 1 Kings 22:19; Daniel 7:9). So this temple that he has in mind is a heavenly temple, similar to that which descended to earth on ‘a high mountain’ away from Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s vision, not to be seen by man, and is revealed in Revelation 4-5 and constantly.

YHWH is seated above His creation (Psalms 29:10, the flood represents the whole of creation - Genesis 1:2), unlike the gods which are simply a part of it. He sits in glorious splendour surrounded by His hosts (1 Kings 22:29) and in view of what He is, and in view of what history reveals about His actions, let all the earth keep silent before Him. Silent in awe, and worship, and reverence. This will one day be the result of what He has done.

Thus YHWH’s reply to Habakkuk’s questions is that through what He is doing Babylon will be judged and punished, the world will be filled with the knowledge of God, and all the earth will worship in awe and reverence before Him in His heavenly temple.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Habakkuk 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/habakkuk-2.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, May 25th, 2019
the Fifth Week after Easter
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