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Habakkuk is a prophet of faith that is tested by delays. We can all identify with him.
Category - Bible Commentaries
Just as the first chapter of Habakkuk raises questions about the ways of God, so also the second chapter gives the prophet answers. Justice will be meted out in the end, but not immediately.
The foundational question is not whether or not justice will come, but rather the reason for delays. “How long, O Lord?” is the opening question. He does not ask if God will bring justice, for he already knows that answer. We too ask this question today. We know and believe that God will overthrow the modern Chaldeans—the “wise men” of Babylon. Our main difficulty is in the delay of that justice and the delay of our emancipation from captivity.
This fundamental question is not answered directly in the second chapter, but for those who live by faith, there is much hope. As a man of faith, the prophet sets himself up like a watchman on the wall, alert and watchful as he waits patiently for God’s answer. Hab. 2:1 says,
1 I will stand upon my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved [tokeha, “corrected”].
The prophet pictures himself as a watchman leaning forward while peering anxiously into the darkness as he waits for God’s message to answer his questions. He even anticipates God’s reproval, or correction, “when I am reproved.” The word tokeha that he uses is from the root word yakah, which, as we have seen, has to do with being corrected, rather than destroyed.
The prophet is not frightened by God’s correction, but eagerly awaits it. He knows that his understanding is faulty and truly wants to know life-changing truth.
Hab. 2:2, 3 says,
2 Then the Lord answered me and said, “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run. 3 For the vision is yet for the appointed time…”
This vision was to be inscribed “on tablets,” which were normally made of clay. There were three ways in which messages could be written in those days: scrolls, clay tablets, and stone tablets. Scrolls were the most short-term of the three, as paper (papyrus) was the first to disintegrate. Clay tablets would last much longer. Stone tablets were the most durable.
In that the prophet was to “inscribe it on tablets,” not scrolls, seems to indicate that the vision was to be delayed far into the future. Tablets were required in order to survive the distance to the generation that would see the vision fulfilled. We are not told whether these tablets were to be made of clay or stone, but I suggest that they were made of stone in order to accommodate the delay to the end at “the appointed time” (vs. 3).
The feast days are the appointed times in Scripture, and in this case, I believe that the deliverance comes through the fulfillment of the Autumn feasts. One might also speculate that the prophet’s house, housing these tablets, might have been burned to the ground by the invading Chaldeans. If that were the case, the tablets could more easily have survived, whereas scrolls may have been burned.
Exactly what was the vision? It can only be the “oracle” (1:1) that makes up the book of Habakkuk, including the prayer in chapter 3.
From God’s perspective, the fulfillment of the vision “hastens toward the goal,” (Hab. 2:3), but from man’s perspective, the delays test our faith and can be quite discouraging and depressing. God is immortal, and so delays mean nothing to Him, but man is mortal, and we long to see prophecy fulfilled in our short lifetime.
Most of the prophets did not live to see their prophecies fulfilled. Hence, they lacked the opportunity (or temptation) to try to force prophecy to be fulfilled by the power of the flesh. Others had to be raised up in their stead to carry the torch of faith until the generation arrived that would see these things happen.
We then see an apparent contradiction, where God first makes it clear that he must “wait for it,” because “it tarries” and then says, “it will not delay.” The two main words are different and yet they carry largely the same meaning.
The implication is that the vision/word “tarries,” to give men time to question it, ponder it, come to grips with it, and to discern if it is indeed true. This is a process of chewing the cud after eating the word. Such tarrying, then, is built into the food laws which define clean spiritual food. See Lev. 11:3,
3 Whatever divides the hoof, thus making split hoofs, and chews the cud, among the animals, that you may eat.
In the case of Habakkuk’s prophecy, there was a long delay that would encompass many generations. So each generation was given opportunity to chew the cud so that the word of God would be “clean” to them.
The word translated “delay” is ahar, “to loiter, fall behind, or procrastinate.” From men’s perspective, God seems to be the great Procrastinator, but God disclaims that title. The appointed time is set in stone, but yet it is hidden usually until the generation is born who will see its fulfillment.
That which shall be manifested on the earth already exists from the beginning. When God speaks, things come into existence, because all things obey His voice. The great example in Scripture is seen in the promise to Abraham of a son. Paul writes in Rom. 4:17, NASB, “even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being [i.e., existence] that which does not exist.”
This is the foundation of the doctrine of imputation, as discussed in Romans 4. That which comes into existence by the word/promise of God is imputed as if it were already a manifested reality in the earth. The distance between existence and manifested reality is time, and we walk that distance by faith on the Highway of Holiness (Isaiah 35:8).
Faith certainly has a beginning point, which brings justification from sin and sends us through the door and into the wilderness. But faithfulness is required to endure to the end, as our faith is tested so that it may mature. Faith plus endurance brings us into the Promised Land.
Heb. 12:1 says,
1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
James 1:2-4 echoes this same sentiment, saying,
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Not all pass the fiery tests of faith. But those who endure will receive the promise of God in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:6). Those who fail in their lifetime will receive their reward in the general resurrection when all who are in the tombs will come forth (John 5:28, 29). Unbelievers will have to await the Creation Jubilee at the end of time.
Habakkuk, we note, was willing to wait, knowing that the promise of God for Judah’s deliverance was built upon the sure word of God. He lived to see only destruction and captivity, but he saw with the eye of faith the vision of full deliverance after a long delay. How long? That was the big question that He was asking God.
In Hab. 2:4, the prophet sets forth the principle of New Covenant faith.
4 Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him. But the righteous will live by his faith.
Though he never uses the term New Covenant, his description roots it in the promise of God to men, rather than the promise of men to God. In fact, among the Old Testament writers, only Jeremiah calls it a “New Covenant” (Jer. 31:31). All others just refer to it as a “covenant.”
Habakkuk shows a contrast between “the proud one” with “the righteous.” It implies that pride is the root of one’s lack of New Covenant faith. When men base their faith on their works or on the strength of their own will, they base their salvation (immortal life) on their own ability to fulfill their vows to God. This is Old Covenant faith, as seen in Exodus 19:8.
When the prophet says that “the righteous will live by his faith,” he does not clearly distinguish between Old and New Covenant faith. However, the overall context of the vision shows that the prophet had faith that God would save the people. He believed God’s promise of deliverance, even if salvation was delayed.
The apostle Paul quotes this in three places: Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38. There are two ways to read this statement of faith. (1) Faith is what justifies a man and is his source of righteousness; and (2) the righteous ones live by faith. In the first instance, faith brings life (immortality). In the second, those who are righteous live a continuous life of faith and, being faithful, they endure to the end.
It is probably for this reason that the New Jerusalem Bible renders this statement: “the upright man will live by his faithfulness.” The translators choose to interpret this verse in terms of enduring faith, rather than as a moment of enlightened revelation.
In Rom. 1:17 and Gal. 3:11, Paul teaches that true faith brings immortal life. But in Heb. 10:38, the stress is on endurance, which refers to a way of life—faithfulness.
In Rom. 1:17 he writes,
17 For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
The gospel is about “the righteousness of God” in that He is faithful to fulfill His promises. If we have Abrahamic faith, believing that God is indeed able to fulfill His promise, then the righteousness of God is imputed to us as well (Rom. 4:21, 22).
Further, we move “from faith to faith,” that is, from Old Covenant faith to New Covenant faith. In so doing, we are upgraded from “the proud” to “the righteous.”
Again, Paul comments on Habakkuk in Gal. 3:10, 11, where he again distinguishes between the two types of faith.
10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them. 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for “The righteous man shall live by faith.”
Those who are “of the Law” are “the proud” whose claim to salvation is based on their own vow and their ability to keep it. But it is evident, Paul says, that human nature lacks the ability to “abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.”
Even Christians lack this ability, regardless of their good intentions and the fervency of their prayers for God to change their nature. Old Covenant faith always fails in the end.
The third New Testament quotation of Hab. 2:4 is found in Heb. 10:38. The context (vs. 36) shows that this is about the promise of God and the importance of our endurance.
36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. 37 For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. 38 But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.
Verse 38 quotes the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament, which is somewhat different from the Hebrew text. In the Septuagint, Hab. 2:4 reads,
4 If he should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him; but the just shall live by My faith.
Notice that the writer of Hebrews quoted the Septuagint but omitted the word “My” to conform to the Hebrew text. Perhaps the writer (Paul, I believe) thought that this word had been added by the rabbinical translators and did not feel it was appropriate. Nonetheless, Paul seems to agree with the actual teaching set forth in the Septuagint version of Hab. 2:4.
This is probably what Paul meant in Phil. 3:9, KJV,
9 and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
This is repeated in Gal. 2:16, KJV,
16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law…
In other words, we who have “believed IN Jesus Christ” have been justified “by the faith OF Jesus Christ,” rather than “by the works of the law.” Note the antithesis. We are either justified by Christ’s faith or by our own works, our own will, and our own faith.
Unfortunately, in both cases the NASB translators disagree with this and take steps to correct Paul’s teaching by rendering this “faith IN Christ Jesus.” Certainly, we ought to have faith in Christ (Gal. 3:26; Col. 1:4), but the faith OF Christ—or perhaps His faithfulness in going to the cross and enduring to the end—is what justifies us.
The faith of God/Christ is the source of our faith in Christ. His faith is the cause; our faith is the effect. Until God reaches out to us to fulfill His promise in us, it is not possible for us to respond in faith. Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17), and only when God speaks can we hear and respond to His voice.
Our faith, then, is important, NOT because it initiates our salvation, but because it is evidence that God is working in our lives to fulfill His promise. So Jeremiah prays to God in Lam. 5:21 KJV, saying,
21 Turn Thou us, unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned…
Likewise, Psalm 80:3 (KJV) says,
3 Turn us again, O God, and cause Thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
The faith of the proud thinks it can receive the promise of God by the will of man. But such faith lacks endurance. It cannot withstand the delay of God’s promise. The faith of Christ is God’s faith, which takes us all the way to the Promised Land. Why? Because it is based on the works of God, not the works of men.
Understanding these distinctions is necessary if we are to grasp the great truth about the quality of one’s faith. If faith is based on works—i.e., one’s ability to keep the law—it will lack endurance and will fall short of the Promised Land. Man’s works are based on man’s will.
But if faith is based on one’s assurance or confidence that God is able to keep His promise, then it will endure to the end. It must be based on a sovereign act of God, which we recognize by faith and respond accordingly.
This is the core of Habakkuk’s message.
Old Covenant faith is always insufficient. It can never fully satisfy the inner hunger. One is always left with a sense of inadequacy, a lack of righteousness that may drive a person to extreme behavior while never changing the heart itself.
So we see extremists in virtually all religions, as men try ever harder to become righteous (by nature). All such extremism is derived from an Old Covenant model of faith. The secret is to believe the promise of God, which allows Him to do the work within our hearts to bring us fully into the image of God.
Hab. 2:5 says,
5 Furthermore, wine betrays the haughty man, so that he does not stay at home. He enlarges his appetite like Sheol, and he is like death, never satisfied. He also gathers to himself all nations and collects to himself all peoples.
The prophet gives us three examples of being “never satisfied.” The first is wine, which, to an alcoholic, is never enough to satisfy the craving. The second is Sheol, “the grave,” which consumes the dead and is “never satisfied.” The third is a conqueror who is “never satisfied” with his conquests.
Conquerors who lack Abrahamic faith tend to be driven by an insatiable inner void, which they try to fill by conquest—which is usually motivated by the desire to plunder the wealth and labor of other nations. Nimrod was the first to hunt men, as it were, to enslave them. So he is called “a mighty hunter” (Gen. 10:9). He built Babel and created the first man-made kingdom.
Hab. 2:6 says,
6 Will not all of these [conquered nations] take up a taunt-song against him, even mockery and insinuations against him and say, “Woe to him who increases what is not his—For how long—and makes himself rich with loans [abtit, “weight of pledges; heavy debts”]?
The prophet says that those who enrich themselves by usury and by demanding excessive pledges (collateral) will ultimately fail to achieve their goals.
They will be judged in the same way they treated others by the “eye for eye” principles in Exodus 21:23-25. In other words, equal justice means that the judgment is always directly proportional to the crime. Hab. 2:7, 8 continues,
7 Will not your creditors rise up suddenly, and those who collect from you awaken? Indeed, you will become plunder for them, 8 because you have looted many nations…
In this case, usurious creditors will be bankrupted. Plunderers will be plundered. Looters will be looted. Then the conquered and oppressed people are able to mock them, saying, “Woe to him who increases what is not his.” This expression speaks of usury, as we see in Jesus’ parable in Luke 19:21,
21 for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting [austeros, “hard, harsh, austere”] man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.
The man misunderstood his master’s nature, thinking that he condoned stealing another man’s labor. So the divine response in the next verses says,
22 He said to him, “By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know [think] that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?”
In other words, if you really thought I was a thief, then why did you not loan out the money at interest? Far from condoning usury, Christ was condemning it.
So, too, Habakkuk condemns the rich bankers who became rich through loans (i.e., charging interest), telling us that eventually their own creditors will foreclose upon their property. All conquerors will in turn be conquered, even if only in later generations. The plunderer will, in turn, be plundered. He who looted others will himself be looted.
Continuing in Hab. 2:8, we read,
8 … All the remainder of the peoples will loot you—because of human bloodshed and violence done to the land, to the town and all its inhabitants.
The stated reason for judgment is “because of human bloodshed.” No doubt much bloodshed (war) has been the result of a banking system based on usury. Bankers have often conspired to foment war in order to weaken the nations and bring them into debt slavery. But there is a deeper principle here. Those who shed blood are bloodthirsty, but many merchants and bankers are also bloodthirsty in their business practices.
This is forbidden in the food law found in Lev. 17:10,
10 And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people.
This law specifically was carried into the New Testament era at the first church council (Acts 15:20). What we eat not only affects us physically but also emotionally and spiritually. In an extreme case, when the priests of Baal ate the babies they sacrificed and drank their blood made rich in adrenochrome, they became addicted to blood. It is the same today, according to Mel Gibson and others, who tell us that adrenochrome is the currency of Hollywood.
God does not like it when men are bloodthirsty. This is a spiritual law. Indeed, in its entirety “the law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14), though many try to apply or enforce the law by the carnal mind, rather than by divine intent.
A good example of bloodthirstiness is found in Ezekiel 35:6, where God castigates Mount Seir, “Goat Mountain,” the inheritance of Esau-Edom. The Greek name for Edom was Idumea.
6 “Therefore as I live,” declares the Lord God, “I will give you over to bloodshed, and bloodshed will pursue you; since you have not hated bloodshed, therefore bloodshed will pursue you.”
The word translated “bloodshed” is dam, the word for “blood.” In fact, the KJV renders it “blood” in the verse above. The meaning of this is seen a few verses later when God points out Edom’s “hatred” against Israel.
Ezekiel 35:12 continues,
12 Then you will know that I, the Lord, have heard all your revilings which you have spoken against the mountains of Israel, saying, “They are laid desolate; they are given to us for food.”
Edom was not normally cannibalistic in the literal sense of the word, but they were bloodthirsty in their dealings with others. This attitude was a violation of the divine nature, the standard by which human morality is measured.
Those who misread the nature of God, thinking that He is “an exacting man” or that He is bloodthirsty, will quickly adopt the same standard for themselves. We tend to imitate the gods we worship, according to our view of their nature. Hence, if we do not know that “God is love,” we ourselves will fall short of the divine standard.
Hab. 2:9 says,
9 Woe to him who gets evil gain [uses extortion for profit] for his house to put his nest on high, to be delivered from the hand of calamity!
The extortionist here is compared to an eagle or vulture that brings its prey to the nest (house) that is situated “on high.” This again referred to the usurers who were being condemned by God through the prophet.
Hab. 2:10 continues,
10 You have devised [conspired] a shameful thing [bosheth] for your house by cutting off [qasa, “to cut off, scrape off”] many peoples; so you are sinning against yourself [lit., your own soul].
The “shameful thing” is from bosheth, “a shame,” which, in Hebrew thought, implied setting up an idol. In this case, it appears that the love of money was their idol. Hence, they charged usury and demanded excessive pledges on loans to “scrape off” as much money as they could from the poor.
The prophet says that these idolators and usurers are sinning against their own souls. This is a Hebrew expression found many times throughout Scripture. In Num. 16:38, KJV those foolish priests who were taken in the Korah rebellion were called “sinners against their own souls.”
Prov. 6:32, KJV says,
32 But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding; he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul.
Prov. 20:2, KJV says,
2 The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion; whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.
Essentially, to sin against one’s own soul is to put his own life in danger. In Hab. 2:10, the usurer puts his own life in danger in the day that his actions backfire on him.
Hab. 2:11 continues,
11 Surely the stone will cry out from the wall, and the rafter will answer it from the framework.
Jesus used this metaphor of the stones crying out in Luke 19:40. City walls were made of individual stones, forming the boundary of the city and serving as a protection from enemies who might lay siege to it. City walls also served as a metaphor for the law of God. Jeremiah wrote in Lam. 2:8, 9 about the walls of Jerusalem,
8 The Lord determined to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion [i.e., Jerusalem]… And He has caused rampart and wall to lament; they have languished together. 9 …the law is no more. Also, her prophets find no vision from the Lord.
The New Jerusalem too has “a great and high wall” (Rev. 21:12), representing the law of God. They keep enemies out of the city, but they are also designed to channel people through the gates. One must enter in a lawful manner and not try to scale the walls as a thief would do. They must go through the Door which is Christ, guarded by the 12 apostles (Rev. 21:14).
Habakkuk tells us that “the stone will cry out from the wall.” Each stone represents one of the laws of God—in this case, either the law forbidding usury or the law forbidding Israelites to oppress foreigners.
One may charge interest on a loan to a foreigner living outside the country, because he follows other laws that allow usury (Deut. 23:20). But if he lives within the Kingdom, submitting to its laws, then one must treat him as an equal with love and “not take usurious interest from him” (Lev. 25:35, 36).