We continued to discuss the theme that has been developing in the past several books (Jonah, Michah, and Nahum), that the Lord is the entire mechanism of affliction and comfort, the storm and the shelter. Habakkuk continues to argue this point, but while questioning the Lord’s methods.
This book takes place after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, also known as Chaldeans. After the stern punishment by Assyria in Micah, and the Lord’s retribution against the pride of Assyria in Nahum, the Israelites likely thought things would go smoothly. Hence the shock of Habakkuk in the first chapter: “How long?!”
A crisis arose at the sack of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple. Either the Lord willed his house to be destroyed or did not will it. If he did not will it, then a force superior to the Lord must exist. This answer is left unaddressed. If the Lord willed its destruction, what would be his reason? The book of Habakkuk addresses this question, trying to figure out why the Lord would allow such death and destruction and why by means of the Chaldeans.
One of the questions that arose after we read through the chapter is whether Habakkuk changed his point of view. The prophet began asking questions of the Lord, receives a response, and then continues questioning. In other words, after the Lord answered the prophet’s question, did Habakkuk progress in his thinking as he continued to interrogate the Lord? Did Habakkuk learn anything from the Lord’s response?
The prophet began his questions wondering why the Lord doesn’t care that justice has been turned on its head (vv. 2-4). When Habakkuk cries out, the Lord doesn’t respond. The land is full of violence and devoid of justice, yet the Lord refuses to act. The Lord seems to have abdicated his position as one who establishes justice. The universe is unfair, and the Lord is letting it happen.
Unexpectedly, the Lord extolled the fighting ability of the ones perpetrating this violence, though they are not flawless (vv. 5-11). First, the Lord depicted the greatness of his action of raising up a fantastic force (vv. 5-7), and then he illustrated the swiftness of the Chaldeans (v. 8). These fighters fought without worry about any leader or fortification (vv. 9-10). However, the weakness of these warriors arose from their pride: they attributed their success to their own god (v. 11).
Habakkuk responded with more questions–why would the Lord use wicked people to establish his justice (vv. 12-17)? Once the prophet established that the Lord is eternal and he does not want to eliminate his people completely, he admitted that this attack is judgement and correction for Israel (v. 12). Then Habakkuk ran into a problem. The Lord cannot even look on anything wicked, yet used the unrighteous Babylonians to destroy his people (v. 13). The Lord created people like fish, and now the Babylonians are “fishing” them to eat (vv. 14-15). Instead of accepting their subservience to the Lord, they worship their nets–and the Lord keeps letting them fish with abundant success (vv. 16-17).
Between the first and second round of questions, Habakkuk changes in that he becomes more specific. He complains at first that the Lord is allowing injustice to prevail. The Lord then focuses on the instrument he chos; in the second round of questions Habakkuk admits the justice behind the action, but questions the Lord’s choice of instruments. If the Lord is in control of the whole system, how can he be just yet employ the unjust? “I can understand why you punish us, O Lord, but why by THEM?!”
The prophet waits for a response for his last question. In 2:1, the prophet–reminiscent of Jonah 4–stands and waits for the Lord’s response. The Lord may be in control of the entire system, but why does he use the unjust and wicked to manifest his will?