The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Habakkuk 2

Hab 2:1

I WILL STAND AT MY WATCH AND STATION MYSELF ON THE RAMPARTS; I WILL LOOK TO SEE WHAT HE WILL SAY TO ME, AND WHAT ANSWER I AM TO GIVE TO THIS COMPLAINT: This v is the summation of Hab 1: the "complaint" was finished there, and now the prophet begins to wait for a reply.

Habakkuk compared himself to a sentinel on a city wall watching the horizon for the approach of a horseman. He planned to watch and wait expectantly for the LORD to reply to this second question, as He had the first, so he could report it to his brethren (cp Hab 3:16). He prepared himself for a discussion with the LORD about the situation as well as for the Lord's answer that he expected in a vision or dream (cp Job 13:3; 23:4).

MY WATCH: The prophets as "watchmen": Eze 3:17; 33:7.

Hab 2:2

WRITE DOWN THE REVELATION AND MAKE IT PLAIN ON TABLETS: A permanent record -- on clay, stone, or metal: cp Exo 31:18; 32:15,16; Deu 9:10; 27:8. "Write down" is Heb "kathab" = to engrave. "Make plain" is Heb "bahar" = to dig. An engraving could not be erased.

SO THAT A HERALD MAY RUN WITH IT: "Herald" (Heb "qore") is literally "the one who reads". Such reading might plausibly be done by a herald, whose role would then be to "run" with the message (cf 1Sa 4:12; 2Sa 18:19-27; Est 3:13,15; 8:10,14; Jer 51:31).

Alternatively, the idiom "run with" may refer specially to prophetic activity (Jer 23:21; cp Dan 12:4). To "run" was an idiomatic way of describing how a prophet was to convey the message of God (cp 1Ki 18:46; Jer 23:21; Isa 52:7). To "run" was also to search for knowledge (Amo 8:12; Jer 5:1).

Hab 2:3

FOR THE REVELATION AWAITS AN APPOINTED TIME...: The writer of the Book of Hebrews quoted this verse (Heb 10:37). He used it to encourage his readers to persevere in their commitment to Jesus Christ since what God has predicted will eventually come to pass, namely the Lord's return.

THOUGH IT LINGER, WAIT FOR IT; IT WILL CERTAINLY COME: "Part of being people of faith is that we wait for explanations, verbal or experiential, that will only come in the future. Someone has said that Christians are people who do not live by explanations but by promises. We must be content with God's promise that one day we will understand what is now obscure. How God will bring His will to pass is a mystery in large measure. We only have the outlines of His actions in prophecy, though we have some remarkably specific details revealed here and there. Nevertheless for the most part we must be willing to wait. The promise of God is life for those who do. Waiting is the hardest work of all, but like Habakkuk we will be able to sing as we wait if we keep talking to God and listening to God" (GCM).

Hab 2:4

SEE, HE IS PUFFED UP; HIS DESIRES ARE NOT UPRIGHT: Proud Babylon was not right in doing what she did but was puffed up with pride and evil passions.

THE RIGHTEOUS WILL LIVE BY HIS FAITH: In contrast to the proud and domineering Babylonians, the Israelites had (or should have had!) "faith" -- their motivation for life was vastly different than that of the Gentiles! (Here was God's answer to the question posed in Hab 1:12-17.)

The central affirmation of Habakkuk is the last part of Hab 2:4: 'the righteous will live by his faith.' There are three key words in this affirmation: righteous, live, and faith. It is interesting that in the three places where this verse is quoted in the NT, in each case a different word receives the emphasis: (1) In Rom 1:17, the emphasis is on 'righteous.' Paul's concern in Romans was with the righteousness of God and how people can obtain it. (2) In Gal 3:11, the emphasis is on 'faith.' Paul contrasted salvation by works and salvation by faith in Galatians. (3) And in Heb 10:38, the emphasis is on 'live.' The writer to the Hebrews stressed the importance of living by faith as a way of life rather than turning back to Judaism and living by the Law.

Thus we can see that this statement is packed with meaning. In fact, many people believe that this verse expresses the central theme of the entire Bible.

This verse may be amplified: "The righteous (ie, those who are justified and declared righteous by God -- being absolved of their sins) shall live (ie, NOW, in their daily lives of faith, and in the FUTURE, in the day of resurrection and glory) by their faith (ie, by acknowledging their utter dependence upon the LORD)."

Hab 2:5

WINE BETRAYS HIM; HE IS ARROGANT AND NEVER AT REST... NEVER SATISFIED...: When a person drinks too much wine it leads him to reveal his pride publicly. The Babylonians were known for their consumption of wine (eg, Dan 5). Wine makes a person dissatisfied with his present situation and possessions, and he often leaves his home to find more elsewhere (cp Prov 23:31,32). The proud person is never satisfied, like death that consumes people every day and never stops. Babylon was similar, opening wide its jaws to consume all peoples. The proud person also seeks to dominate others, and this too marked Babylon. These were the evidences of Babylon's pride and the basis of Yahweh's indictment of this nation (cp Hab 1:17).

Hab 2:6

Vv 6-20: Five woes against the Babylonians.

Vv 6-8: Woe to the exploiter.

WHO PILES UP STOLEN GOODS AND MAKES HIMSELF WEALTHY BY EXTORTION: Dictators in their pride are never satisfied, but always want to expand and expand further their possessions. This is wicked in itself, but never so dangerous as when such a man looks upon the Land and the City of God -- for then he is stealing most directly from God, by touching the "apple of His eye" (Zec 2:8). Indeed, "I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves" (Zec 12:3).

Hab 2:7

WILL NOT YOUR DEBTORS SUDDENLY ARISE? WILL THEY NOT WAKE UP AND MAKE YOU TREMBLE? THEN YOU WILL BECOME THEIR VICTIM: (1) Those from whom Babylon had stolen would surely rise up and rebel when they woke up to what was going on. Then they would turn the tables and Babylon would become plunder for them. This happened when the Medes and Persians rose up and overthrew Babylon in 539 BC. (2) The saints will "arise" and then reign with Christ, breaking in pieces all oppressors!

Hab 2:8

BECAUSE YOU HAVE PLUNDERED MANY NATIONS, THE PEOPLES WHO ARE LEFT WILL PLUNDER YOU: Babylon would suffer the same punishment it had inflicted on other nations (cp Pro 22:8; Gal 6:7). Its survivors would loot it because it had looted other peoples. Babylon's pillaging had involved human bloodshed and ethical wrong ("violence") done to the land of Canaan and to the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, and thus -- in the Last Days -- the last "Babylon" will be itself destroyed by Christ and the saints (Rev 5:9,10; 2:26).

Hab 2:9

Vv 9-11: Woe to him who exalts himself.

WOE TO HIM WHO BUILDS HIS REALM BY UNJUST GAIN: Babylon used its unjust acquisitions to build a secure place for itself that they thought would be safe from all calamity (cp Gen 11:4; Dan 4:30).

TO SET HIS NEST ON HIGH: This was also said of Edom in Obad 1:3,4.

Hab 2:11

THE STONES OF THE WALL WILL CRY OUT, AND THE BEAMS OF THE WOODWORK WILL ECHO IT: The stones and woodwork taken from other nations to build the Babylonians' fortresses and palaces would serve as visual witnesses to the sinful invasions that brought them to Babylon. They would testify to the guilt of the Babylonians in the day that Yahweh would bring Babylon to judgment. Ostentatious buildings and cities make statements about their builders. "The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish" (Pro 14:11).

Similarly, the wages that the rich men withheld from their laborers would cry out against them (Jam 5:4).

Hab 2:12

Vv 12-14: Woe to the oppressor.

WOE TO HIM WHO BUILDS A CITY WITH BLOODSHED AND ESTABLISHES A TOWN BY CRIME!: Was there ever a political dynasty that wasn't built upon the blood, sweat, and tears of the poor? Such "violence" brought the flood of Noah's day (Luk 17:26,27).

Hab 2:14

FOR THE EARTH WILL BE FILLED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE GLORY OF THE LORD, AS THE WATERS COVER THE SEA: Rather than the earth being filled with the glory of Babylon, it will one day be filled with knowledge of God's glory, as comprehensively as the waters cover the sea (cp Num 14:21; Psa 72:19; Isa 6:3; 11:9; Jer 31:34). This has yet to be. It refers to the ultimate destruction of Babylon in the Last Days (cp Rev 16:1 -- 18:24).

The Babylon in view in the Book of Habakkuk was mainly the Neo-Babylonian Empire, but ever since Babel (Gen 11:1-9) "Babylon" had a symbolic meaning as well. It represented all ungodly peoples who rose up in self-reliance to glorify themselves and reach heaven by their own works. God destroyed the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 BC, but what Babylon represents will continue until God destroys it when Jesus Christ returns to the earth to set up His new order in the Millennium.

Hab 2:15

Vv 15-17: Woe to the violent and immoral.

WOE TO HIM WHO GIVES DRINK TO HIS NEIGHBORS... SO THAT HE CAN GAZE ON THEIR NAKED BODIES: God would judge Babylon because the Babylonians had deceived their neighbor nations with the result that they were able to take advantage of them. The Babylonians had behaved like a man who gets a woman drunk so she will lose her self-control and he can then undress her. That the Babylonians took advantage of their victims sexually is implied in the illustration as is their love for wine.

The connection between idolatry and adultery or fornication -- in the "nature" religions of Canaan, and the similar religions of other Middle Eastern countries -- is obvious (cp Rev 14:8; 17:2; 18:3).

Hab 2:16

YOU WILL BE FILLED WITH SHAME INSTEAD OF GLORY. NOW IT IS YOUR TURN! DRINK AND BE EXPOSED AND STAGGER! THE CUP FROM THE LORD'S RIGHT HAND IS COMING AROUND TO YOU, AND DISGRACE WILL COVER YOUR GLORY: "As they had made their neighbors drunk, so the Lord would give them a cup of judgment that would make them drunk. Yahweh's right hand is a figure for His strong personal retribution, giving back in kind what the person being judged had given (cp Isa 51:17-23; Jer 25:15-17; Lam 4:21; Mat 20:22; 26:42; 1Co 11:29). Having swallowed the cup's contents the Babylonians would disgrace themselves rather than honoring and glorifying themselves as they did presently. Their future disgrace contrasts with Yahweh's future glory (v 14). They would expose their own nakedness as they had exposed the nakedness of others (v 15). Nakedness involves vulnerability as well as shame (cp Gen 9:21-25). The Lord pictured Babylon as a contemptible, naked drunk who had lost his self-control and the respect of everyone including himself" (Const).

Hab 2:17

LEBANON: Prob used here as a sym of Israel: cp 2Ki 14:9; Jer 22:6,23; Isa 14:8; 33:9; Eze 17:3.

CITIES: Similarly, this may refer to the greatest city, Jerusalem -- and its temple (Zec 11:1).

Hab 2:18

Vv 18-20: Woe to the idolater.

OF WHAT VALUE IS AN IDOL, SINCE A MAN HAS CARVED IT? OR AN IMAGE THAT TEACHES LIES? FOR HE WHO MAKES IT TRUSTS IN HIS OWN CREATION; HE MAKES IDOLS THAT CANNOT SPEAK: Habakkuk, like other prophets, saw through the folly of idolatry and exposed it (cp Isa 41:7; 44:9-20; 45:16,20; 46:1,2,6,7; Jer 10:8-16). An idol carved by human hands cannot help its maker because anyone who creates is always greater than his creation. Images really become teachers of falsehood since their existence implies a lie, namely that they can help humans. An idol-carver trusts in his own handiwork by making it. Idols cannot even speak much less provide help (cp Rom 1:22-25).

"Modern people in their sophistications may regard themselves as free from the obvious folly of idolatry. What educated, self-respecting person would be deluded into expecting special powers to emanate from the form of an antiquated Idol? Yet the new covenant Scriptures make it plain that covetousness IS idolatry (Eph 5:5). Whenever a person's desire looks to the creature rather than the Creator, he is guilty of the same kind of foolishness. An insatiable desire for things not rightly possessed assumes that things can satisfy rather than God himself. Whenever a person sets his priorities on the things made rather than on the Maker of things, he is guilty of idolatry" (Robertson).

Hab 2:19

// 1Ki 18:26-29: the priests of Baal on Mt Carmel.

Hab 2:20

BUT THE LORD IS IN HIS HOLY TEMPLE: In contrast to lifeless idols stands the living and true God. Yahweh abode in His heavenly temple, not in the works of human hands. And He will abide in His renewed Temple, which will be established in Jerusalem, when His Son returns to set up His Kingdom on the earth again: cp Isa 56:6,7; Zec 6:12,13; Eze 43:2,7; Isa 2:2-4; Zec 14:9,16.

LET ALL THE EARTH BE SILENT BEFORE HIM: Therefore all the earth, everything in it, should be quiet before Him out of respect and awe (fear: cp v 1; Hab 3:16). There is no need to try and coax Him to come to life or to speak (cp v 19). The implication of Yahweh's majestic sovereignty is that He would take care of Babylon; the Israelites did not have to concern themselves with that (cp Hab 3:16).

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