Habakkuk and God; Illuminated Bible from the 1220s, National Library of Portugal
This is the first time we have examined the prophet Habakkuk. He prophesized during the time of Jeremiah. (Background for the time can be found here.) The book was most likely composed between the first signs that the Babylonians were preparing to attack Jerusalem – 598 BC and final assault in March 597.
It is composed of 3 sections: An opening dialogue between Habakkuk and God, a vision and a concluding psalm. Our reading today is only from the first section, but we will refer to the others as well. Note however that it is divided.
As with virtually all the prophets, Habakkuk is persecuted for following his call and the God who called him has not, in his view, sufficiently defended him:
How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not intervene. Hab 1:2
Also, as the prophets before him he is especially hated because of his calls for justice:
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble? Hab 1:3.
In verses immediately after the one we first read today; he continues:
This is why the law is benumbed,
and judgment is never rendered:
Because the wicked circumvent the just;
this is why judgment comes forth perverted (Hab 1:4).
Experts in the law have used it to pervert indeed undue its basic meaning. How can it mean anything when it is used against the weak and defenseless?
God now speaks and tells Habakkuk that He will be using the Babylonians, (Chaldea) to punish the Judeans.
For see, I am raising up Chaldea,
that bitter and unruly people (Hab 1:6).
God continues for 5 more verses on how destructive the Babylonians are. (Hab 7-12). Finally, Habakkuk can take it no longer and he cries out with:
Are you not from eternity, O LORD,
my holy God, immortal?
O LORD you have marked him for judgment,
O Rock , you have readied him for punishment!
13 Too pure are your eyes to look upon evil,
and the sight of misery you cannot endure.
Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence
while the wicked man devours
one more just than himself? (Hab 1:12–13).
This is Habakkuk’s second question to God. However bad the Judeans have been they are not as evil as the Babylonians. Why is God using them against his people?
But Habakkuk ends this wisely with:
I will stand at my guard post,
and station myself upon the rampart,
And keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what answer he will give to my complaint (Hab 2:1).
He is ultimately humble enough to know that he must listen to God. In the second part of today’s reading God responds:
2 Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write down the vision
Clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
3 For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
If it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
4 The rash man has no integrity;
but the just man, because of his faith, shall (Hab 2:2–4a).
Neither Habakkuk nor any human will have the answer to ultimate questions. That must come from God. It will not come immediately, nor will it be immediately understood. Therefore, it must be written down so that it can be pondered later. We should remember that this was composed before the exile but would not be fulfilled until the return to Jerusalem. The primary meaning of Prophecy is not predicting the future and indeed most times it does not. But as we have seen with Ezekiel and a bit with Jeremiah sometimes it does. This is one of those cases. He is telling Habakkuk that vindication will come but not in his lifetime and so he must not only wait for his word to be given but write it down for those who will see it fulfilled. Those who are rash will not wait and will not see but those who are open will.
The visions now follow, to give just a few:
5 He who opens wide his throat like the nether world,
and is insatiable as death,
Who gathers to himself all the nations,
and rallies to himself all the peoples—
6 Shall not all these take up a taunt against him,
satire and epigrams about him, to say:
Woe to him who stores up what is not his:
how long can it last!
he loads himself down with debts.…
9 Woe to him who pursues evil gain for his household,
setting his nest on high
to escape the reach of misfortune!
and establishes a town by wickedness (Hab 2: selections).
Prophecy often follows the pattern that after the condemnation of the Jewish people the other nations are condemned and indeed even if they are following God’s will in chastising the Jews if they are not just, they too will be destroyed. The basic need to act justly and fairly is given to all whether Jew or Gentile. Note that God will use the nations to chastise and reform the Jews, his people, but will not perform this therapy for the nations.
We are required to learn God’s way of telling time and fulfilling promises. His intervention may be powerful, but it is rarely swift. When we look at our nation and world, we might ask ourselves, “Why is God not changing this?”. Why is he not showing his power? Yet he will require of us that we respond immediately to his call. We need to change our minds and hearts, so let the words of Habakkuk become our own. The book concludes with:
For though the fig tree blossom not
nor fruit be on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive fail
and the terraces produce no nourishment,
Though the flocks disappear from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 Yet will I rejoice in the LORD
and exult in my saving God.
19 GOD, my Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet swift as those of hinds
and enables me to go upon the heights