The Horror That God should judge His people seemed like the ultimate impossibility. Yet that was what the prophet felt and could not believe as he gazed upon the horror which was to come. it is described in the opening verse of Habakkuk as his “burden” because it was heavy to bear; and as it lingered in his memory, he was pressed down with depression like a great weight. “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘violence!’ And You will not save” (Hab. 1:2 NKJV). Though this was a vision for the immediate future, it was yet to be fulfilled finally and completely. But is there not a serious application for our own times as well? Ought not we to look with horror at the judgments which hang over us? Were not the sins of Israel in that day the sins of our nations in these days? “For plundering and violence are before me. There is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the Law is powerless, and justice never goes forth” (Hab. 1:3-4). There is lawlessness in the streets of our cities, lies and fraud in commerce and in public life, and neighbor is set against neighbor. “I have seen violence and strife in the city ... iniquity and trouble are also in the midst of it. destruction is in its midst; oppression and deceit do not depart from its streets” (Ps. 55:9-11). So said David the psalmist nearly 400 years earlier. He felt the same horror and revulsion as did Habakkuk.
The Inner Councils Of God
Like the psalmist, the prophet must have felt ready to give up. And as we experience the hardheartedness and willful ignorance of our fellows, do we not feel the same? However when our hearts cry out for all the wrong that is done, God then takes us into His inner councils and everything gradually becomes clear to “anyone who wills to do His (the Father’s) will” (Jn 7:17).
God’s Word sheds light on the depressing darkness of our planet, and we see that God is, after all, in control. He holds the future, so do we have to fear? Even in Habakkuk’s lifetime God was planning to do something unbelievable. “The Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation” (Hab. 1:6) were going to be raised up as an instrument of judgment upon the unfaithfulness of His people.
Let us put all this into its chronological context. Habakkuk had seen the decline in the state of Israel. However, the young king Josiah, who had been on the throne for eight years and was just 16 years old, was planning his reforms; God in His mercy was giving His people one more chance to repent and to mend the broken state of their nation and their lives. Even at that time the cynical – and who would not be cynical – might have smiled a sorrowful smile and shaken their heads saying, “nothing will come of it.”
Even so, today we do not know what is to be. Yet God has His plans, and while we have our freedom we may make known the gospel warning: “The night is coming when no one can work” (Jn. 9:4). So the urgency increases and a revived “Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride” (isa. 13:19) is waiting in the wings, inspired by Satan but permitted by God, to bring terrible judgments on this sinful earth.
Sin is like corruption, and like corruption it spreads through all ranks and conditions of society. Eventually the foundations of the state are rotted and unstable, and the whole structure comes crashing down. it is natural for a chill of fear to slink into our consciousness. It is natural for us to despair, but God knows our weakness and gives us encouragement from His Word.
The judgments of God are very often remedial, cleansing our souls so we yearn for something better. The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple may not have seemed a blessing to the people of Israel, yet it was. Their captivity gave them a different perspective. They returned a sadder but wiser people.
The Consistency Of Revelation
The prophet Habakkuk’s experience is like that of the psalmist Asaph; again he receives enlightenment. “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me – until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end” (Ps. 73:16-17). God showed Habakkuk the power of His presence, and that put everything into correct perspective: “Are You not from everlasting, O LORd my God, my Holy One? We shall not die … You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (Hab. 1:12-13).
Nothing gives us courage like knowing that God is with us. Like Ezekiel after him, he understood the mission God had given him and affirmed, “I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart” (Hab. 2:1).
In the book of Habakkuk we find a series of vivid news flashes which burn themselves into our minds, becoming unforgettable. The plan unfolds, and like Martin Luther we are encouraged to see that, “the just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4). And then we find one so evil that he contrasts absolutely with the weak and helpless one clinging to the truth of God: He is “a proud man … because he enlarges his desire as hell, and he is like death and cannot be satisfied, he gathers to himself all nations and heaps up for himself all peoples” (Hab. 2:5).
The contextual link to the Chaldeans is clear, yet this “proud man” is not linked to Nebuchadnezzar. The latter was only a type of that last terrible conqueror whose ambition makes him Satan’s own regent seeking to extend his control over the whole world. Patterns in biblical history repeat themselves, each growing larger and more sinister than the last. This “proud man” is greater than Alexander, more ruthless than Caesar, and more cruel than Genghis Khan – and he is soon to be revealed. He is the Beast of Revelation 13.
But even he will have to give way. Even he will have to grovel as will his master, for the Bible decrees “that every knee should bow … and that every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:9-11; isa. 45:23). Soon after the darkness closes, this wondering cry will come: “Who is this who comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah, this One who is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength?” Then will come the answer. “I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save” (Isa. 63:1).
We are not told the time of this fulfillment; it is not for us to know. We are, however, assured of its certainty for the passage commences with the wonderful promise: “For yet a little while and He who is coming will come and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37). This quotation from the new Testament is a targum (a paraphrase of the Old Testament) where the original is amplified and personalized. The prophet had the promise that “it will surely come, it will not tarry” (Hab. 2:3). We see the One who will bring it about in His return to earth. He who has saved us and changed our lives will yet return to change the earth, then the universe, and bring salvation to His people. Everything will be in its own time and its own proper order.
How things open up to us in the Bible! Mary too saw this day and rejoiced saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior” (Lk. 1:46-47). And she continued: “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty” (Lk. 1:51-53).
“Let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Hab. 2:20). When the prophet heard this he fell to his knees and prayed: “O LORD. I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O LORD, revive Your work … in the midst of the years make it known. In wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2). This is a prayer for all who recognize that the earth is a desert and we don’t belong here. In Sunday school we sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” Only those with a true grasp of these things can appreciate the wonderful things which follow.
The High And Lofty Place
Whatever the state of this world, whatever the strife of nations, however much we see “the wicked like the troubled sea which cannot rest” (isa. 57:20), we can have this confidence: God is God, and He holds us fast and safe. indeed more than that, for even in this life while the men cower, squabble and bow to conquerors and tyrants, we do not. Like deer, our feet take us up into the high places (Hab. 3:19) where we breathe the fresh, pure wind of heaven, and look down with God’s perspective on wars, strivings, ambitions, lies, hypocrisies, violence, famine, disease and death. Whatever the situation, we sing with the stringed instruments of heaven, safe in that high and lofty place.
By Roger Penney
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org