The prophet Habakkuk delivered his prophecy about the same time as Jeremiah, which was not long before the destruction of the Southern Kingdom of Judah in 586 BC. In this Book, we have a man of faith asking questions and receiving answers. A comparison of chapter 1:2 with 3:19 will give us an indication of the true value of this Book. Opening in mystery and questioning, it closes in certainty and affirmation. The contrast is startling! The first is almost a wail of despair, and the last is a shout of confidence. The Book is a movement from one to the other, and the door of exit and entrance is chapter 2:4. The former part is a pathway leading thereto, and the latter is the highway leading therefrom. And so the Book falls naturally into two parts: the prophet’s problems (1:1–2:4) and the prophet’s proclamations (2:5–3:19).
The subject of which the prophet speaks is very grand, and it would have had a peculiar interest to an Israelite. In prophetic vision, Habakkuk beholds the Babylonian armies invading his homeland. The Temple and its worship were abolished, and the sacred land and the free nation were given over to devastation and humiliation. A prospect like this was well-suited to plunge any sensitive heart into the most bitter grief; and when it was felt in all the sharpness of prophetic perception, it could not help breaking a heart that was as warm and ardent as that of Habakkuk.
In the opening verses of this Book, the prophet sadly laments the iniquity of the times, as one who was sensibly touched with grief over the lamentable decay of religion and righteousness in his day. The land was full of violence, as the pre-Flood world was (Gen. 6:11). It does not appear that the prophet himself had any great wrong done to him personally; but it grieved him to see other people wronged, and he could not help mingling his tears with those of the oppressed. Another sorrow of the times was that the kingdom was broken into fac-tions that were continually biting and devouring one another. This is a lamentation to all the sons and daughters of peace. The torrent of violence and strife ran strongly, and defied all the restraints of laws and the administration of justice (verse 4). The law was slackened, and its judgment did not go forth as it should have done; no justice was done upon criminals. And if appeals were made to the courts of equity, the righteous were condemned and the wicked were justified.
Habakkuk complained of these things to God, but it seemed that he could not obtain a redress of those grievances. When the Lord seems to allow the wickedness of the wicked to go unpunished by permitting them to prosper therein, it shocks the faith of Godly persons and often proves to be a sore temptation for them to doubt His justice and love. But verses 5-11 reveal the answer to the prophet’s complaints. The Lord gives him assurance that even though He seems to delay for a long time, yet He will not always put up with provoking people. And if Habakkuk’s countrymen would not be brought to repentance by the longsuffering patience of God, He would raise up the Babylonians against them to be their punishment. These cruel enemies would seize all as their own that they could lay their hands upon. And in all this, Babylon would become puffed up with an intolerable pride – which would later become their own destruction (verse 11). This verse does give a glimpse of comfort to the afflicted people of God. As their enemies grow worse and worse, they are ripening for destruction which will inevitably come in the Lord’s due time; for a haughty spirit which is lifted up against Him goes before a fall.
The rest of this chapter (verses 12-17) contains a blessed prayer which embosoms all the leading points of redemption. “Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord my God, mine Holy One?” the prophet asks. Herein the glorious and eternal excellency of the Lord’s nature and character is most blessedly confirmed. And it is upon these grounds that Habakkuk’s prayer is established. Jehovah is our covenant-God – from everlasting! Redemption is not a work of yesterday; for Christ, the Holy One, has been set up from everlasting (Ps. 89:19). Indeed, He is the Lamb Who was slain from the foundation of the world! (Rev. 13:8) In His righteousness, we are justified before the Father’s throne; therefore, let us not be slack to ascribe to Him the praises that are due to Him!
Despite the fact that the wickedness of the wicked may seem to prosper for a while, yet God is indeed a holy and just God; He never has approved of their wickedness, and He never will. But Habakkuk still finds it hard to reconcile his countrymen’s grievances with these truths (verses 13-16). Why did He allow their enemies to have success in their wicked ways? The Babylonians made no more of killing men than they did of catching fish. Such a small account did those proud oppressors make of sacred human life, that they made no conscience of killing them anymore than men have any conscience of pulling fish out of the water and roasting them for dinner. They sacrificed and burned incense to their own fishnet, so to speak – that is, they applauded themselves for having gotten so much power, money, and booty for themselves, although it was won dishonestly and taken at the brutal expense of bloodshed. But the prophet closes this chapter by humbly expressing his hope that God will not allow these destroyers of mankind to go on and prosper thus forever (verse 17).
Lord, we praise You as the holy and just Judge Who is wise and righteous in all, for we are assured that the day will come when the cries of Your persecuted people will be fully answered in the punishment of those who oppress them. Amen.
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