Here are my notes from Sunday's second in the series.
Last week Habakkuk asked God three questions, what was the first? (1:2)How long, LORD, until you bring justice? And God’s answer was that he saw the injustice in Judah and he was acting - the Babylonians were his means of judgement and they would decimate Judah. But the ferocity and horror of the Babylonian conquests led Habakkuk to ask another question; what was it? How could the wicked swallow up the more righteous? How could God use godless, idolatrous, arrogant Babylon to judge Judah – far from perfect but with at least a remnant of the righteous? And finally ch1 ended with his third question which was what? (1:17)“Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy?” In other words will there be an end to Babylon’s power and rule?
Here in chapter 2 God answers Habakkuk again, God the creator speaks lovingly and graciously, answering his creations complaint. God’s answer shows he is the sovereign of all history but that he is also concerned for his people as he gives a revelation, a vision, of the future. Habakkuk gets a God’s eye view of history.
It’s a bit like the satellite image you can get on Google maps, as opposed to Habakkuk’s street level view, and as such Habakkuk is shown things that are distant for him but will happen and he and the rest of the remnant are exhorted to live faithfully – in the light of the God they know and the revelation he has given.
1. Waiting faithfully (2-5)
God’s answer to Habakkuk is for more than just Habakkuk, what is he told to do with the revelation? (2) “Write down the revelation, and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it...” This is a vision for all God’s faithful remnant. It is to be permanent recorded so they can keep coming back to it, so that as months turn into years God’s faithful remnant can remind themselves that a time is certainly coming when Babylon’s rule and cruelty will be God judged.
(4-5)Contrast the life of the righteous, or the justified, and Babylon. Babylon will continue to be what it is, puffed up, arrogant, insatiable in its appetite for conquest, pleasure, wine, riches, and reputation. But the righteous are to be different (4)“but the righteous will live by their faithfulness, or faith.”
They are not righteous because of their faithfulness but the idea is of a court of law, a status conferred by God – God has declared them righteous they haven’t earned it. They are the justified. And they live as the justified, there is some debate as to whether it should read faith or faithfulness, but actually both ideas are present; faith in God leads natural to faithful living. What does their faithfulness look like, it looks like waiting; knowing that even as Babylon looks all powerful and permanent that it is not, they will not give up hope or doubt God’s sovereignty or his word even as it lingers, they live knowing it will certainly come. The justified live trusting in God’s future and singing Habakkuk’s song of praise even in captivity in Babylon.
The justified, God’s people, the faithful remnant live by faith not by sight, they live by vision not view, and this revelation is to set their expectation. This vision is given so that God’s faithful people maintain their trust in God even at the darkest moments in their history, and so that they live out that faith.
What will living out such faith mean? It means not giving up hope, not becoming bitter and cynical, it means living life faithfully trusting God unafraid to be different as we see with Daniel and his three friends.
This verse is picked up three times in the New Testament and it has the same focus we see here, twice Paul uses it to remind believers that they are saved by faith (Rom 1:17, Gal 3:11) not by works or keeping the law. And in Hebrews it is applied as an exhortation to endurance and perseverance(10:38). Those quotations reinforce the points made here; God’s people are justified by God to live by faith which is evidenced in faithfulness – an ongoing perseverance that trust itself to God our Saviour and his revelation that determines our expectations.
2. A God worth waiting for
Here God answers Habakkuk’s question(1:17), there will be an end, a reckoning, a judgement, Babylon’s arrogance and cruelty is not going to go unpunished. In fact one of the noticeable things about each of the woe pronouncements is the reciprocity of the judgement – there is a sense of Babylon getting what they deserve as the captive peoples of Babylon taunt at her judgement and downfall, even the word woe is really something like ‘Ahah!’ a mocking pronouncement(6a). Just as ch1 piled up images of savagery and conquest so here each woe has piled up images linked to a theme.
a. The Plunderer Plundered(6b-8)
Here the focus is on plunder and spoil, Babylon has taken riches from others, be it actual riches or people and now they will rise up and plunder her.
b. The Secure Unsecured(9-11)
Safety and security are the focus of the next paragraph in terms of building a lasting empire or securing a dynasty. That’s what the term house signifies, all Babylon’s conquest and hoarded wealth look like they have secured her empire, but (10) Babylon will be held accountable, her life is forfeit, (11)the very things Babylon has built its empire with, its plundered and stolen things cry out against it for judgement, and it is not secure.
c. Worldly glory humbled by the God of true glory(12-14)
The next picture is of a city built as a lasting monument shining in its splendour as a testament to the power and skill of those who built it. But says God it is built on bloodshed and injustice. Its glory is not glory, its building is pointless, and it will be burned up. It’s a verse that evokes memories of Sodom and Gomorrah and of God’s going before his people as they took Canaan as a consuming fire. Their tainted worldly glory will not last, it will be destroyed. It may look impress and lasting but it is not! But one day everyone will see something truly glorious.
(14)And the justified are to live faithfully because one day true glory will be seen; “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11v4, 9 tells us that day is when the branch of Jesse comes to judge justly. A judgement different from the judgement the Babylonians enact because it will be global in scale and godly in character, it will be a judgement of righteousness and faithfulness which establishes a new world 11:6-16 when all people come and bow to God. Here is a hope for God’s people to live by.
d. The Shameless Shamed (15-17)
The image here is of what? Drunkenness and the shameful acts which flow from that drunkenness, which Babylon has gloried in and bullied others into. But (16) now it is Babylon’s turn “You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!” God is judging, hence that image of the cup as Babylon drinks the cup of God’s wrath against its sin and god-defying arrogance. All the violence, obscenities and shaming of others will be paid back on Babylon. Its disgrace will be so great it will cover, obscure or obliterate its glory.
e. The worship of the speechless silenced by the God who speaks (18-20)
The final woe is pronounced on Babylon’s worship as idolatry is exposed for the illogical and rebellious thing it is. In those days when one nation beat and took captive another it was viewed as the king’s victory but also the triumph of one god over another. But not so says God – Babylon are my tool to judge my people God told us in ch1. And here we see God silence the false idolatrous worship from his holy temple – his command for silence silencing the noisy worship of dumb lifeless objects. Because God is God, he is sovereign, he alone is God and there is no other.
What those woes emphasise is the comprehensive nature of God’s judgement, there will be an end, and God has a plan for his people that goes beyond the time of the Babylonians, it is (14)“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” There is a hope, a future, a promise to live for and God reveals it so his people live through the dark times mourning the injustice, praying for God to act, and trusting that one day he will do so. This revelation enables the justified to live by faith in the future but drawing that down into the present evidenced in faithful living.
Know who your God is, listen to his revelation and let it set your expectations, and live out that reality. It is what enables God’s people to serve him even in exile.
Habakkuk 2 reminds us not to fall into the trap of assuming the world will always be as it is now, that the same powers will always rule seemingly with impunity. God gives us the same glimpse as he gives Habakkuk and in Revelation a fuller vision of our future, Revelation 18-19 pictures the end and judgement of Babylon – the world opposed to God, and gives us a fuller picture of the day when God’s glory will fill the earth when Christ returns and everything is put under his feet. And why does God give Habakkuk and Revelation to us? So that we use it to feed our faith, so that the justified people of God live out their reality, to stoke the fires of our faith as we live waiting for that day.
Judge the world not by sight but by faith, revelation sets our expectations and calls us to live by faith.
We saw from ch1 that we ought to mourn at injustice, but it is not to derail our faith. God reveals to us that he will judge, we are to live not indifferent to injustice because of that but we are not hopeless either. Instead we are to be an advocate for the oppressed and for God as we hope in him.
As we experience injustice and oppression we are also liberated to continue to live faithfully, entrusting ourselves to God who judges justly. That enables us as sinners saved by grace to love others even those who oppress us.
Revelation is to set our expectations; God’s people endure and persevere “the righteous will live by their faithfulness.