A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
We’ve been comparing Habakkuk’s prophecies of the Babylonian conquest of Judah in 600 BC with current events where powerful forces from the same region have once again risen in battle against God’s people. Is this mere coincidence or is history repeating itself? And if it is, is God warning the West and particularly America that our judgment is due and will come at the hand of Islamic terrorism? Let’s continue with chapter two.
I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. (Habakkuk 2:1)
Habakkuk has complained about the Lord’s method of judging Judah. “Sure, we deserve it” he said, “But at the hand of the Babylonians? They’re ever so much worse than we are, and they don’t even believe in you. Do You think they’ll credit You for giving them victory over us? No, they’ll think it was their god who did this, and they’ll worship him for it.”
The LORD’s Answer
Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.
“See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright— but the righteous will live by his faith – indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest. Because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples.
“Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying, ” ‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on?’
Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble?
Then you will become their victim. Because you have plundered many nations, the peoples who are left will plunder you. For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
“Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.
“Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! Has not the LORD Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
“Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed! The cup from the LORD’s right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory. The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed man’s blood; you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.
“Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” (Habakkuk 2:2-20)
Chapter two deals primarily with the Lord’s condemnation of the Babylonians, declaring in no uncertain terms His distaste for those evil people. In language eerily reminiscent of His judgment of Satan in Isaiah 14:1-23 (interestingly called the King of Babylon there) He answers Habakkuk’s complaint by promising Babylon’s destruction. Cautioning him to be patient, He swears that it will surely happen.
However there would be no reprieve for Judah. In spite of repeated warnings, Judah had failed to repent and would be judged. The only hint of hope is tucked away in verse four and is given to individuals, not the nation. The righteous shall live by faith. Their faith in God and His infinite mercy would see them through this difficult and destructive time.
Is this how it will be in our day? The West is also ripe for judgment, and it appears that Islamic terrorists are positioned to bring it to us just like their ancestors did to Judah. If so, Europe and America are in for even more difficult times, and as His people we’re admonished to rely on our faith to see us through. Like it did in Judah’s case, the judgment will come, but our enemy’s victory will be short lived, as his ultimate destruction awaits the appointed time and will not prove false. His god will be of no help to him then; the error of his teachings exposed. But the Lord will stand in His Holy Temple; let all the Earth be silent before Him.
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth. (Habakkuk 3:1)
Having finally realized the wisdom of God’s plan, Habakkuk breaks forth in a passionate prayer of apology. To capture the spirit in which Habakkuk offered this prayer, chapter three was set to a type of music called Shigionoth and sung like a psalm. Shigionoth is a Hebrew musical term describing frenzied, impassioned music and dance. The amplified Bible defines it as wild, enthusiastic and triumphal music. Other definitions include inspired or motivational, an intoxication in the Holy Spirit. Some have called it the rock music of its day. Suffice it to say that Habakkuk was full of the Spirit, spontaneously beginning to sing and then dance as the words of his prayer came gushing forth.
LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.
God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden. Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps. He stood, and shook the earth; He looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed. His ways are eternal.
I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish. Were you angry with the rivers, O LORD ? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against the sea when you rode with your horses and your victorious chariots?
You uncovered your bow, you called for many arrows. You split the earth with rivers; the mountains saw you and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high. Sun and moon stood still in the heavens at the glint of your flying arrows, at the lightning of your flashing spear.
In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations. You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot.
With his own spear you pierced his head when his warriors stormed out to scatter us, gloating as though about to devour the wretched, who were in hiding. You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters.
I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:2-19)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, King Solomon wrote, (Prov. 9:10) and as Habakkuk concluded his prayer we can see that he had acquired both. He knew that the behavior of his people deserved judgment, and that the Lord would have to act. In fact he had criticized Him for delaying.
He also knew that the Babylonians were evil and given to excess and that the Lord would have to punish them, too. Isaiah had prophesied that very thing 150 years earlier. I was angry with my people and desecrated my inheritance; I gave them into your hand, and you showed them no mercy. Even on the aged you laid a very heavy yoke. (Isaiah 47:6)
And Jeremiah, a contemporary of Habakkuk’s, had written, “But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever. (Jere. 25:12)
(Jeremiah had earlier foretold the term of Judah’s captivity in Babylon as being 70 years. After that they would return and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. True to His word, the Lord raised up the Medes and the Persians to conquer Babylon 70 years from Babylon’s first siege of Jerusalem.)
Far from being rewarded, as Habakkuk had earlier accused the Lord of doing by choosing them as His instrument of judgment, the Babylonians would be sealing their own fate. Their abusive treatment of the Jews entrusted to them would be the last straw for the Lord. But He would choose the time and means of their destruction.
Now I Get It
Habakkuk had seen the light. No matter what happened, he would praise the Lord, relying on his faith to carry him through the difficulties ahead. And that’s the most important message for us to receive from this study. The righteous shall live by faith, irrespective of circumstance or situation.
America’s leaders tell us that Islamic terrorism of the nuclear variety is all but inevitable. It’s not a question of if but when. And if Habakkuk was writing to us as well as Judah, I detected no promise in his book of escape for our nation.
Years ago Billy Graham said that if God doesn’t judge America, He’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. God is just and whatever He permits to befall us is nothing more than we deserve. That being the case, the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation must become our watchword for today. The righteous shall live by faith.
Does that mean that we should just sit here and wait for the inevitable? Of course not. Neither should we deny the reality of our plight as so many in Habakkuk’s time did. We have to prepare for the worst. But though our enemies rise up in our midst, our prosperity vanish before our eyes, and our trust in the things of this world totally betray us, yet will we rejoice in the LORD, and be joyful in God our Savior. The Sovereign LORD is our strength; he makes our feet like the feet of a deer, he enables us to go on the heights.
Rejoice in the Lord always, Paul wrote. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7) Sounds like Habakkuk and Paul agree on this. How about you? 10-30-05