Habakkuk stood at his watch and waited for an answer from YHWH. The answer would come, and it would resonate for generations.
The prophet Habakkuk looked upon a sinful Judah and wondered if God would render justice (Habakkuk 1:1-4). YHWH responded and left no doubt: He would bring forth the Chaldean army as the agent of His judgment (Habakkuk 1:5-11). Habakkuk was greatly troubled at this prospect: how could a holy and righteous God use a more sinful nation to judge and condemn a comparatively less sinful one (Habakkuk 1:12-17)? Habakkuk waited for an answer from God (Habakkuk 2:1).
YHWH exhorted Habakkuk to write down the vision and make it plain upon tablets so that those who would run to it might read it (Habakkuk 2:2). The vision would reach its fulfillment: time hastened toward it and it would not lie; even if it seemed to take longer than expected, they should wait, for the events would come and not delay (Habakkuk 2:3). The soul of the arrogant, the unjust, and the Chaldean is puffed up and is not upright; the righteous one, however, will live by his or her faith (Habakkuk 2:4). “Wine” was reckoned as treacherous and haughty, enlarging desire like the underworld, insatiable, gathering all nations and people: one might be tempted to find some truth in a literal application, yet we do better to understand “wine” in terms of the intoxicating desire for greater power and wealth manifest among the unjust and the Chaldean army, and perhaps also the wine of the unmixed cup of the wrath of God’s judgment.
The Chaldeans lusted for glory, power, and wealth; later generations would taunt them, pronouncing woe on those who gain wealth which is not their own (Habakkuk 2:6). Nations would suddenly rise up against them and plunder them: as they had plundered many nations, the nations would plunder them, and thus return judgment for all the blood they had shed (Habakkuk 2:7-8). Woe was also pronounced on those who obtained wealth through evil in order to exalt and magnify themselves: their house would be covered in shame, they had sinned, and even their house would cry out against them (Habakkuk 2:9-11). Further woes came against those who build a city by blood and iniquity (Habakkuk 2:12). YHWH has decreed that people would put forth great labor for what would eventually be burned, and nations would wear themselves out for vanity, a breath or absurdity, for glory and power and wealth which would exist today but be gone tomorrow (Habakkuk 2:13). The earth would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of YHWH as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14).
Habakkuk pronounced woe on those who cause their neighbors to drink and become intoxicated in order to satisfy their evil desires in seeing the nakedness and humiliation of others: they will be filled with shame and not glory, and will be compelled, as if the uncircumcised, to drink the cup of YHWH, and endure their foul shame (Habakkuk 2:15-16). All the violence the Chaldeans did against Lebanon, animal life, and human life will cover them (Habakkuk 2:17). The Chaldeans could take no comfort in their gods: what profit did they obtain from their graven images, made by humans, and yet remain dumb; woe would come against those who devote themselves to statues of wood overlaid with gold and silver (Habakkuk 2:18-19). All the while YHWH was in His holy temple, and the earth should keep silent before Him (Habakkuk 2:20).
Habakkuk 2:4 is justly famous: Paul and the Hebrews author relied upon it heavily in order to make their case regarding justification by faith and perseverance in faith (Romans 1:16-17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:36-39). Yet its importance is not divorced from its context but highlighted therein.
We could understand Habakkuk’s concern and frustration: Judah has proven unjust, yes, but how can it be just for an even more unjust and sinful people to gain victory over them (Habakkuk 1:1-2:1)? While at times it may seem that YHWH has individual people in mind in Habakkuk 2:2-20, His focus remains on the Chaldeans throughout. They are those who are puffed up and their soul is not right in them. They are those drunk on the intoxicating desire for power and wealth. They would be ascendant for the moment; they would labor to build a most impressive city whose fame endures until this day. And yet it would all be for naught. As they had destroyed others, they would be destroyed in turn. As they exploited the wealth of other nations, other nations would exploit their wealth. All that effort, and all that arrogance, would be ultimately for nothing; Babylon is now a ruin in a sad state of disrepair, its walls crumbling, and its extent not fully investigated or known. All the devotion they lavished upon their gods was for naught: the statues were dumb, there was nothing really there, and the whole edifice and pretense would fall apart.
So it was with the Chaldeans, but really such has been how it has always gone with those who follow the ways of the demonic wisdom of the world. What the world gives the world takes away. One group has great strength for a moment; they will be overturned by those over whom they had previously gained the victory. Wealth based on exploitation and oppression would eventually fade or be taken in exploitation or oppression. Unjust Judah received vengeance and justice for their worldliness at the hands of the Chaldeans; the Chaldeans would receive it at the hands of the Persians; the Persians by the Macedonians; and so on until this very day. Their souls were puffed up; it was not right within them. They were drunk on the wine of power and wealth; it led to their undoing.
Meanwhile, God remained in His holy temple, and all the earth should have remained silent before Him. The testimony of God’s power would be known throughout the world. Those who would endure would be the righteous, and they would live by their faith. They would trust in God, and not idols who could not speak, teach, or do anything. They would not maintain confidence in worldly power or foreign policy schemes, but entirely entrust themselves to God and His purposes. They would not seek wealth through exploitation or oppression, but would trust in God their Creator and Sustainer, obtain His blessings, and use them as He intended, to benefit and provide for others as well. The nations, and even the people of God would be compelled to drink the cup of the unmixed wine of the wrath of God and suffer the penalty of justice; the righteous would live by their faith.
Paul well noted the timelessness of Habakkuk’s core exhortation (Galatians 3:11; cf. Habakkuk 2:4). The people of God have only ever lived and endured by their faith. The soul of the unjust is puffed up and is not right within him. We will turn toward God and orient ourselves around His life and purposes, or we will turn away from God and orient ourselves according to the ways of this world. We may delude ourselves into thinking that God is not there, God does not notice, God does not care, or God will do nothing, and yet God is in His holy temple. If we mentally associate that temple with the building in Jerusalem, or the modern Christian assembly, we are distracting ourselves from the thrust of Habakkuk’s message. YHWH is in the seat of His power; the earth ought to keep silent before Him. He sees. He knows. He will judge. We may experience that judgment in various ways at various times, but it will come. We must proclaim this so all can hear or read and know, so that the knowledge of God may fill the earth as the waters fill the sea. God is not mocked. It may be tomorrow or the third day, but those who live according to the world will reap the judgment coming for the world. Let us turn, therefore, live by faith, and obtain life in God in Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry