In Habakkuk 2:12, 13 we read,
12 Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with violence. 13 Is it not indeed from the Lord of hosts that peoples toil for fire, and nations grow weary for nothing?
It was common practice in those days, when dedicating a new house, to sacrifice one’s firstborn son and bury him within its walls. Cities too were always dedicated to the gods of the land with sacrifices, often human sacrifices.
The years of labor going into the construction of a city are wasted in the long run, because any city built upon bloodshed and violence cannot endure forever. They “toil for fire” and “grow weary for nothing.” Toiling for fire was a metaphor that meant laboring for that which will finally be turned to ashes.
True and False Glory
The first part of verse 13 connects not only to the carnal activities that the nations were doing, but also to verse 14:
14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
The prophet was conveying the contrast between true and false worship. Specifically, while those who worshiped false gods put their time and effort into things that God would ultimately destroy by fire, it is equally true that God, being sovereign, would fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory—a glory that will last forever.
The “fire” in verse 13 is, in this sense, the glory of man, which is temporal and turns everything to ashes. The glory of God, on the other hand, will prevail in the end.
Likewise, just as the carnal glory of cities dedicated to false gods seems to be universal—even in Judah—so also the glory of God will be universal before the end of time.
Furthermore, His glory will be seen by all. Not only will it be seen, but it will be experienced by all. The “earth” here represents humanity as a whole, for if the glory of God covers the physical earth apart from men to witness it, there would be little purpose for that glory.
Habakkuk was repeating and interpreting God’s vow to Moses in Num. 14:21,
21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.
When men swear in court to tell the whole truth, they swear in the name of someone or something greater. But God swears by His own name, putting His own character and ability on the line. It means that if His word fails to come to pass, then He has denied Himself and is not God.
Habakkuk leaves out the phrase, “as I live,” but he adds “as the waters cover the sea.” The prophet saw no need to tell us that this was God’s vow in the divine court, but he felt the need to clarify the scope of God’s revelation.
By using the metaphor of the sea, he makes it clear that just as waters cover the sea at 100 percent, so also will His glory cover the earth at 100 percent.
Isaiah 11:9 is an earlier prophecy, which undoubtedly Habakkuk had read:
9 … For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
It seems that Isaiah was the first to interpret the scope of God’s vow in terms of the waters covering the sea. Isaiah speaks of all men knowing God at some point, and this is uniquely a New Covenant promise, as seen in Jeremiah 31:34, where no one will have to teach his neighbor saying, “Know the Lord, for they will all know Me.”
However, Habakkuk gives God’s vow a different nuance, claiming that all will know, see, and experience the knowledge of God’s glory. What does this mean? The Wycliff Bible Commentary tells us this:
“Unlike Isaiah’s prediction, Isaiah 11:9, which foretells a time when men shall know God, being brought into intimate fellowship with him, this verse says that there will be a manifestation of the glory of the Lord. The reference is to God’s power and majesty as these are displayed in judgment against ungodliness and the foes of his people… As water fills the sea in overflowing abundance, so the glory of God shall be manifested to all men in fullest measure.”
The commentators can take the vow of God only to a certain point, for their eyes are darkened. Thus, they see the glory of God only as a “judgment against ungodliness and the foes of his people.” Certainly, the fire of the Holy Spirit was sent to burn the chaff (Matt. 3:11), but it is so much more than that.
The original vow in Num. 14:21 was God’s response to the challenge that the will of carnally-minded Israelites might be able to prevent God from bringing them into the Promised Land. God’s response was that He was able to cover the whole earth with His glory, implying that these Israelites could never prevent Him from fulfilling His promise (to Abraham).
Just because God judged the Israelites by causing them to die in the wilderness without receiving the promise did not negate His promise to them. It only meant that these Israelites would receive the promise in another age—the age of judgment after the Great White Throne.
This was again illustrated by the fact that their children entered the Promised Land by an alternate route. They entered from the east by crossing the Jordan (death and resurrection), instead of going directly into the Promised Land from the south at Kadesh-barnea.
New Covenant Glory
Peter, James, and John saw Christ’s glory on Mount Herman where He was transfigured (Matt. 17:2). John later testified, “and we saw His glory” (John 1:14). Likewise, Peter wrote that—
16 … we were eyewitnesses of His majesty, 17 for when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
We all agree that the glory they saw on the Mount is the glory that we ourselves are to receive as our inheritance, that is, our Promised Land, the glorified body. But how many will receive that glory?
Paul writes in Phil. 3:20, 21,
20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
The body of His glory is the transfigured body that the 3 disciples saw on the Mount. The hope of the believer is to be “transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). Though unbelievers are generally unaware of this glory—or they seek to become “ascended masters” apart from Christ and the lawful path—we know that He has the power and ability “to subject all things to Himself.”
This is not merely the power to destroy “ungodliness and the foes of his people,” as the commentators think. It is the power “to subject all things to Himself.” In other words, to make them His subjects, putting “all things in subjection under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:27), so that “God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).
This does not refer to all who remain after God’s glory has burned them up (or cast them all into hell). No, the glory of God is to cause sinners to repent and enemies to become friends. Hence, Phil. 2:9-11 says,
9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Here Paul partially quotes God’s vow in Isaiah 45:23-25,
23 I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. 24 They will say of Me, “Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.” Men will come to Him, and all who were angry at him will be put to shame. 25 In the Lord all the offspring of Israel will be justified and will glory.
Isaiah puts words in the mouths of those who bow the knee and “swear allegiance” by their tongue. Their tongues will say, “Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.” Paul adds that their confession will be “to the glory of God the Father.”
It is NOT the case that, following this great confession of faith, God will then turn around and say, “Sorry, too late; off to hell you go!” How then could all things in heaven, earth, and under the earth be reconciled? How could all of these former enemies become subject to Christ? Creation does not cringe in horror at the manifestation of the sons of God. They eagerly await it, knowing that this manifestation of the few proves that God can and will save the many.
So Paul says in Romans 8:19-21,
19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Creation cannot be free apart from “the glory of the children of God.” All of creation has a stake in the manifestation of the children of God. This glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. When it does, creation will be set free from corruption and death. It will not be sent to hell and lost forever.
The glory of God is to turn the hearts of everything in creation, so that creation may manifest the glory of God as it was purposed from the beginning. God is the great winner. He will lose nothing, “for He has put all things in subjection under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:27).
This is the vow of our sovereign God, who swore by His own name. Though today relatively few believe that God is able to keep that promise, our eyes have been enlightened with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. We have a message of hope for a corrupted creation. He is able to turn every heart back to Himself, and He has vowed to do so.
Meanwhile, the work of God is incomplete. While it is true that the cross made the salvation of creation inevitable, there is still much to be worked out before time is no more. So Heb. 2:9 says,
9 You have put all things in subjection under His feet. For in subjecting all things to Him, He left nothing that is not subject to Him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to Him.
The apparent contradiction is resolved by timing. The cross subjected all things to Him so that God may be all in all, but it will take time for this to work out in actual history.
Hab. 2:15, 16 continues,
15 Woe to you who make your neighbors drink, who mix in your venom (hema) even to make them drunk so as to look on their nakedness. 16 You will be filled with disgrace rather than honor. Now you yourself drink and expose your own nakedness. The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter disgrace will come upon your glory.
Apparently, the prophet had witnessed how some had given wine spiked with opium in order “to look on their nakedness.” This went beyond mere drunkenness. The “venom” (Heb. hema) was described in Deut. 32:32, 33 in terms of opium.
32 for their vine is from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison [rosh, “poppies”], their clusters bitter. 33 Their wine is the venom of serpents, and the deadly poison of cobras.
Sodom and Gomorrah were known for their fields of poppies from which opium was made. The Hebrew word rosh means “head,” and here it refers to the prominent head of the poppy plant. Moses compared poppies to “cobras” and opium to snake venom.
This theme is repeated by Habakkuk, using the same term hema. It suggests that he had seen how some men spiked the wine of a neighbor woman (or women) in order to expose their nakedness while being incapacitated.
The prophet says that God will give these men some spiked wine of His own to expose their nakedness as well. This is done by the law equal justice, where the judgment fits the crime (Exodus 21:23-25). Just as they disgraced their victims, so also will God disgrace them.
This law applied also to Babylon and Jerusalem, as we see in Jer. 25:15-18,
15 For thus the Lord, the God of Israel, says to me, “Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand and cause all the nations to whom I send you to drink it. 16 They will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them.” 17 Then I took the cup from the Lord’s hand and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it: 18 Jerusalem and the cities of Judah and its kings and its princes, to make them a ruin, a horror, a hissing and a curse, as it is this day.
The cup of wrath in God’s hand will make the nations “go mad,” reminding us of Nebuchadnezzar’s time of insanity in Dan. 4:33,
33 Immediately the word concerning Nebuchad-nezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.
Babylon was the first of the four beast nations listed in Daniel 7. Babylon had acted like a beast in their treatment of other nations, eating them as cattle eats grass. (“All flesh is grass,” Isaiah 40:6). Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, was sent out to act like a beast that eats grass so that the world would see the nature and character of Babylon.
The same is true today, where we see Mystery Babylon acting out the insanity of its political and social policies. In this way, God is exposing the insanity of the beast empires and the nakedness and shame of their leaders’ hearts.
They are exposing their own nakedness and shame, as Hab. 2:16 prophesies. God did this in the days of that prophet, and He is doing it again today. So “utter disgrace will come upon your glory.”
This shows the contrast between the glory of Babylon and the glory of God. When God is finished with His plan, His glory will fully replace man’s transient glory of pride and ambitions to rule the world.
Hab. 2:17 says,
17 For the violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, and the devastation of its beasts by which you terrified them, because of human bloodshed and violence done to the land, to the town and all its inhabitants.
In this case, “Lebanon” was not referring to Phoenicia or to Tyre and Sideon, but to the region in northern Israel near the White Mountains (i.e., Liban, or Lebanon). See Jer. 22:6, 23; Zech. 10:10, 11:1. Zech. 11:3 calls it “the pride of the Jordan,” because the White Mountains were the source of the Jordan River as well as the Sea of Galilee.
At one time it contained majestic cedar forests and wild beasts, but various nations had cut down most of the trees and hunted the wild animals by the time of Habakkuk. The prophet uses this as a metaphor for the overthrow of the royal houses and the beast systems as well.
Judgment on Idolatry
Hab. 2:18 says,
18 What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it, or an image, a teacher of falsehood? For its maker trusts in his own handiwork when he fashions speechless idols.
We are not to create God in our own image, as this is a violation of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4). Man was created to be in the image of God, not the other way around. God Himself is not the image being reflected in the mirror. He is the One to be reflected in our character and nature (2 Cor. 3:18).
The prophet says that there is no profit, nothing beneficial, in a man-made idol. He calls it “a teacher of falsehood” who cannot speak. Why would anyone prefer a dumb idol to the living God who speaks constantly? Psalm 19:1, 2 says,
1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. 2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
Hab. 2:19 continues,
19 “Woe to him who says to a piece of wood, “Awake!” To a mute stone, “Arise!” And that is your teacher? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath [ruach, “spirit, breath”] at all inside it.
In a physical sense, idols do not breathe, and in a spiritual sense, idols have no spirit. So why would anyone ask them any questions and expect them to teach spiritual truth?
Perhaps the main problem is that God usually speaks in a silent voice, which is often seen as being no different from a silent idol. Elijah took note that God did not speak through the wind, the earthquake, or the fire but rather in “a sound of gentle blowing” (1 Kings 19:12 NASB). The KJV renders it “a still small voice.” The Septuagint reads, “a gentle breeze.”
Both speak silently. Psalm 19:3 says,
3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard.
The similarity ends there. The difference is that God is a Spirit and is alive, whereas an idol has no spirit and is dead.
Hab. 2:20 closes the prophet’s teaching section, saying,
20 But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.
While there is no spirit in an idol or in a pagan temple, Yahweh is in His holy temple. Though God Himself speaks silently in the gentle breeze (wind), the prophet commands the whole earth to be silent before Him, for when we speak, it is difficult to hear Him speak.
It is only when we are silent that we can hear Him speak.