Chapter 2 of Habakkuk answers the prophet’s questions of chapter 1. Habakkuk asked in ch. 1 how long the Lord would afflict them and why he would use such rotten means of affliction. Here in ch. 2 the Lord explained that the cycle of oppression is not about the participants but about their attitudes. If anyone trusts in the Lord, they will be safe; if not, their selfish ambition will prove their downfall.
After reading through the chapter in class, the participants couldn’t help but notice the coming word of judgement, especially in v. 3. But when is it coming? Will it tarry or not? The verse is unclear. Another item confused people, that is, who is being addressed precisely. At times, Babylon is addressed as “he,” such as in v. 5, but elsewhere as “you,” such as in v. 7. Sometimes, the “you” can start to sound like Israel. Reminiscent of Nahum’s word from the Lord, Babylon is condemned directly, but Israel is warned indirectly. Combining these two ambiguities–the time of judgement and the addressee of the judgement–Habakkuk accuses Babylon for now while he warns Israel about a potential future where Israel takes on the condemned traits of Babylon.
Habakkuk received the word of judgement wherein only those who trust in the Lord will be safe. The chapter began with Habakkuk awaiting the answer to his questions (v. 1), and followed with the Lord’s answer (v. 2). The Lord wanted to be absolutely clear, commanding the prophet to post the word on a billboard. The word will come, sooner or later (v. 3). Then the word finally came, and it separates the one who is proud and not upright from the one who shall live because he trusts in the Lord (v. 4). Whether you trust in yourself or in the Lord determines your fate. Just as the Lord is the whirlwind (Nahum 1:3), he is also the protection from danger (Nahum 1:7).
Those who victimize others on the way up will themselves eventually fall victim to their victims. In a more concrete way, the one who steps on people to their rise to the top will have to answer to those they stepped on (vv. 5-8). The ambitious Babylonians became proud and as insatiable as death (v. 5). The poor whom the ambitious one put down along the way will end up to be his undoing (vv. 6-8). The ones he took collateral from will take from him; the ones who were plundered will plunder him. The means of success for the proud man will be the means of his downfall.
Once the proud person builds himself up, he entrenches himself to stay safe but condemns himself in the process. He gathers in resources–coming from the poor people mentioned above–so that he can build a safe home for himself, like an eagle with a nest in a cliff (v. 9). Then he teaches his children to do the same (v. 10). His house, though, testifies to his pride and covetousness and exploitation (v. 11), and the scope of this testimony extends out to the city established by the same greed and love of gain (v. 12). A safe, protected house built with these ill-gotten gains ironically condemn him to judgement.
The Lord leads the uprising of the people against the powers that be, not to help out the poor but so that all can know his glory (vv. 13-17). He leads the weak to destroy the powerful so that “knowledge of the glory of the Lord” spreads throughout the world (vv. 13-14). This news is not necessarily good. We see a similar scene in Numbers 14, where Moses talked down the Lord, who wanted to wipe out the Israelites because of their rebellion; at that point, the Lord ominously parallels the signs (plagues) he made in Egypt and his glory (Num 14:22). The Lord’s glory is that he uses the weak to shame the proud. Normally, the proud survive off of the shame of the weak; soon the proud will be shamed by the Lord because of the violence caused by the proud (Hab 2:15-17). The Lord ultimately lifts up the lowly against the proud so that the earth will know that no pride can hinder his glory.
Finally, the Lord compared the works of proud, human hands with the Lord himself (vv. 18-20). People create idols so that they can take a life of their own. Then they sit at the feet of their idols waiting in wonder for wisdom (vv. 18-19). In reality, they are inanimate, incapable of creation or teaching. In contrast, the Lord sits invisibly, in silence, and evokes true wonder (v. 20). His wonder, though, comes not from sitting in awe, but remembering the deeds of the above verses. One keeps silence before the Lord because he is more powerful than any person, group of people, or force in the world. He defeats the strong through the weak, reversing the way of the world, and revealing his glory; even the fantasy of the proud cannot make the inanimate animate.
Since the time of judgement is still undetermined, anyone can still be subject to it. In addition, the ambiguity convicts the Babylonians of pride and ambition, and whose sentence will be carried out by their victims. At first, Israel may see this as good news. Since judgement has not come yet, Israel still could potentially fall into the same sin as Babylon. Should they begin to trust their ambition and the work of their own hands more than the Lord, they could find themselves destroyed by the whirlwind, rather than protected from it.