In the previous chapter we discovered that God would use Babylon to judge Judah. Not surprisingly Habakkuk was baffled since Babylon was more corrupt than Judah though he chose to hold his peace and wait on the Lord. History repeats itself since today we look at the nations and see injustice and ungodliness, so we turn to the Lord and the Scriptures for answers.
The Lord answered Habakkuk and instructed him to write the vision clear on tablets so that others could also read it. This may remind you of the giving of the decalogue or Zacharias writing on a tablet, “his name is John” which in both cases brought needed clarity. In Habakkuk’s day there was no shortage of false prophets, much corruption and uncertainty. Of course we see exactly the same in our era. Similarly sound teaching should always bring clarity and clearly and purposefully encourage us to walk in obedience to the Lord.
Biblical prophets recorded their messages by placing them at the gates or the temple to be read. Their discourses were recalled in the temple records to prevent them from being altered. This also enabled subsequent generations to test whether their words came to pass (Deuteronomy 18:19-22). Although the vision was set in the immediate context it also contained future fulfilment for Judah and Babylon.
The vision was for an appointed time and is recorded in verses 6-20. The Babylonian Empire would collapse as foretold within the space of seventy years although the Babylonian system would fall in latter years. We are encouraged in that God’s knowledge of the past, present and future reassures us that He is control of events then, now, and forever after.
Maybe you are troubled by world events and are worried about what will happen tomorrow and how God will untangle all the mess. Take encouragement since the Bible is clear that God will bring down wicked empires, nations, and rulers in His appointed time. The Lord will return and rule in righteousness, and His first coming assures us of His return. God has not changed His plan since the just shall live by faith. God decreed that the vision would not fail, and the history of prophecy attests the prophetic word. His timing is perfect meaning we can turn our worry into worship. His word gives us continual edification, providing us with what we need. Since we know the outcome, we can rest in Him, enjoy His presence, and share fellowship with others.
The just shall live by faith encapsulates the 613 commandments of the Torah. This phrase in Habakkuk 2:4b is quoted three times in the Brit Hadasha (New Testament), and on each occasion, with a different emphasis.
(Romans 1:16-17) God always justifies sinners by grace through faith alone.
(Galatians 3:10-11) We are not justified by keeping the law but by living by faith.
(Hebrews 10:37-38) It is our faith that pleases Him which is living and active.
Therefore we are called to persevere and to trust in Him. Faith in God is not merely intellectual assent nor the sum total of our endeavours. To illustrate this, imagine living by works instead of faith. How ‘much’ would be enough in terms of how often and how long one would have to pray for? How hard would someone need to labour? Would there be any joy or assurance or could there ever be a moment to sit and rest awhile? When someone is truly trusting in the Lord, they no longer try to justify themselves through their efforts and can trust in Him and what He has done since it is God who justifies.
Habakkuk then addressed some of the problems concerning his time and era which again are equally relevant now. Verse 5 explains that wine drinking was an issue in Babylon then and it is still so today. It is any coincidence that Belshazzar had a great feast with much wine with the drinking vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem before the writing was on the wall? It is all too easy to become full on wine and become proud and self-sufficient. One thing often leads to another. Pride leads to excess and a relentless drive for more. The Babylonian conquests and desires were like hell in that they were never satisfied. People became enslaved by intoxicating drink. It has affected so many cultures worldwide. I saw a pitiful sight in Zambia where workers blew their wages by drinking early in the morning and had little to show for it.
Five woes are given regarding specific sins and God’s vengeance. But even God’s judgements reassure us of His consistency. Verse 6 announces that a taunt song and a riddle would accompany the judgement. Babylon would be forced to drink deeply from her own cup and reel from her own medicine.
The first sin in verses 6-8 was exploitation. The Babylonians taxed heavily and charged excessive interest much like banks today deliberately loaning amounts to gain huge disproportionate returns in the long run. What will be their outcome? They will be judged since the Lord is committed to righteousness.
The second sin in verses 9-11 is covetous by evil gain. “You shall not covet” is one of the Ten Commandments but also the desire and the root leading to the breaking of other ones. Sometimes coveting is underrated and in addition to being sinful in itself, it is the cause of a multitude of other sins.
It is a terrible thing when covetousness leads to evil gain. You may have seen this at the workplace when some seek to steal the ideas of others and obtain the credit, others are willing to trample over others and see that as necessary for success and some cheat to acquire what they crave for. At times this is looked upon favourably and considered as simply ‘ambition’. At the end of the day, God is righteous and holy, and they will have their comeuppance.
Habakkuk 2:11 reads, “For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the timbers will answer it.” This ties in with when Yeshua (Jesus) entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in Luke 19:37-40 near the descent of the Mount of lives. The Pharisees asked Him to rebuke them though Jesus instead rebuked them with double irony quoting Habakkuk 2:11 exposing their hypocrisy. The name Yeshua, means ‘Saviour’ and they cried ‘Hosanna’, save us! Within a week the Saviour who never sinned would give Himself as a sin-offering making atonement for sin and reconciliation with God possible. The Saviour rose, ascended to heaven, and will return. Are you trusting in Him, and will you be ready when He returns?
The third sin in verses 12-14 is violence. Babylon was built through bloodshed, iniquity, and slave labour. Nebuchadnezzar’s building projects were relentless. Picture Babylon with its famous hanging gardens. Before you reach the impressively and imposing decorative gate, some of the walls are 70ft high and 10ft in width. Think of bronze gates, lavish fortifications and lions and other beasts engraved therein. Babylon was considered an impregnable and architectural paradise. Nonetheless Nebuchadnezzar was humbled, ate grass for seven years like an ox though at the end praised God.
You can see Babylon today. By that I mean her remains in the museums in Chicago, Paris, and London. The late Warren Wiersbe recalled that he was initially impressed with the magnificence of the buildings but was then disgusted since a city that was built on slave labour does not compare with the value of one soul of the slaves that meant more to God than all the buildings together.
The glory of God in the new Jerusalem will eclipse and supersede that of Babylon forever. There is a millennial promise of the whole earth being filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
The fourth sin has been mentioned earlier in the chapter and concerns drunkenness. The damage and number of related issues are immeasurable. Babylon misused alcohol for perverse desires and helped people to become drunk in order to exploit them. They used alcohol to look upon another person’s nakedness. This was an ancient predecessor of the date rape drug. This was even worse than Ham’s sin since he did not actually make Noah drunk so that he could degrade him. How many needless hospital admissions, domestic violence cases, drunk driving incidents, broken families, and relationships stem from misusing alcohol? The inhibitions are removed, regret follows late and often too late. God would avenge Babylon and they would be forced to drink a double measure for their sins.
In addition King Nebuchadnezzar loved the cedars of Lebanon for his building projects (v17). It was a beautiful range, famous for vegetation and cedars and no doubt the animals were plundered too. His relentless campaigns were so excessive that it caused havoc on the landscape. But again, take encouragement to the references in Scripture concerning the restoration of the animal kingdom in the millennial kingdom ((Isaiah 11:6-10; 65:25), when Messiah will reign on earth.
The fifth sin in verses 18-20 is idolatry. Ancient Babylon was the home of idolatry which spread to Rome and remains there to this day. Idolatry is worshipping that which is created rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). The destruction of Babylon would demonstrate God’s supremacy over false gods.
Is it not strange that people spend time making gods and then worship them? They are mute and immobile. Emile Durkheim observed totem poles being used for different clans and concluded that ‘religion is the worship of society’. We may think that primitive or far removed but we are saturated with celebrity worship. I remember a classmate describing an athlete as ‘his idol’ and I found that greatly disturbing since I could see that even at a tender age that the problems encountered a few thousand years ago are the issues of today.
But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.
By means of contrast, the living Creator calls us to be silent before Him. The Lord in His Holy temple would have been a great comfort for Habakkuk. Yeshua is coming again, and He will rule again in Jerusalem and with reverence, we shall keep silent before Him.
Habakkuk went from worrying to waiting to worshipping. That is how we should be. God’s plans for the nations, leaders. Individuals and our lives will neither tarry, nor fail. Our consolation, hope, promise, and assurance are ‘the just shall live by faith’. The whole earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. We will wait for Him, worship Him, trust in Him, and draw near to Him and in reverence and awe, we will keep silent before Him.