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The Prophecy of Habakkuk
Habakkuk (LXX Ambakoum) does not date himself or his prophecy. Rather, we must rely on the circumstances of the prophecy itself for a date, and of course that cannot be absolutely reliable since the prophets of the Living God indeed foretold the future before it was inevitable that the events which they spoke of were going to happen. Habakkuk is written from a perspective which is oblivious to the Assyrian empire or the Assyrian deportations of Israel and much of Judah, which had occurred over several decades and well into the 7th century BC. The fall of Nineveh to the Scythians, Medes and Persians occurred right around 612 BC, and Nebuchadnezzar II ascended to the throne of Babylon in 605 BC, from which time Babylon would acquire hegemony over the remaining portions of the old Assyrian empire. This time, from 612 BC to 605 BC, seems to be the most appropriate for the proclamation that Yahweh would “raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation” here in verse 6 of the opening chapter. While it is also possible that Assyria was ignored and the oracle uttered before that time, it does not seem likely that such a prophecy would be uttered during the reign of the good king Josiah, which lasted until about 609 BC. It is much more likely that Habakkuk prophesied these things during the reigns of the three wicked kings which followed Josiah, which were Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. With these and other circumstances both Biblical and historical, the early portion of the rule of Jehoiakim is the most likely candidate for the time of this prophecy, between 608 and 601 BC.
According to Strong's Concordance, the name Habakkuk is a reduplicated form of a word, Habak, meaning to clasp (see Strong's #'s 2263 and 2265). This is appropriate, because the prophet presents two things which must be grasped, the first being a prophesy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the second a prophecy of the destruction of Babylon.
The prophet says nothing about himself, but he seems to have been a Levite connected to the service of music in the temple, since the third chapter of this prophecy is a song written after the manner of Psalm 7 and instructions are given for its performance. Both pieces, Psalm 7 and Habakkuk chapter 3, are for Shigionoth, or Shiggaion in the Psalm, both words being from Strong's Hebrew Lexicon # 7692 which is said to be “a rambling poem”. However more modern versions of the lexicon define the word to mean “a wild passionate song with rapid changes of rhythm”, and while that is not entirely certain, related words mean to be mad, crazy, or raving.
Before the song in chapter 3 of the prophecy, the reader is presented with a dialogue between the prophet and Yahweh Himself, the God of Israel, where the prophet begins by crying out for justice and judgment against the sins of the people. The prophet is portrayed as being the first to speak.
Habakkuk 1:1 The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see. 2 O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! 3 Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention.
Evidently, a significant portion of the people have taken to rapacity, and raising strife and contention with the Law of Yahweh or those who desire to live by it. We must remain aware that other prophets have indicated that there is a significant population of Canaanites in Jerusalem. Both Jeremiah chapter 2 and Ezekiel chapter 16 are indicative of the situation and attribute the sin in Judah to that very problem. The Bible teaches us throughout its earliest chapters that so long as the Canaanites are permitted to live among the people of Israel, that the people would continue to follow after the ways of the Canaanites. This situation accounts for the entire history of Jerusalem, and the real history of the ancient city can never be properly understood without this knowledge. Ezekiel says in his 16th chapter: “1 Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2 Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, 3 And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and thy nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite.”
4 Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.
Isaiah describes some of the conditions inside Jerusalem and Judah over a hundred years before this time where we find in chapter 3 of his prophecy “1 For, behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water, 2 The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, 3 The captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counsellor, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator. 4 And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. 5 And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable. 6 When a man shall take hold of his brother of the house of his father, saying, Thou hast clothing, be thou our ruler, and let this ruin be under thy hand: 7 In that day shall he swear, saying, I will not be an healer; for in my house is neither bread nor clothing: make me not a ruler of the people. 8 For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the LORD, to provoke the eyes of his glory. 9 The shew of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves. 10 Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. 11 Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him. 12 As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths. 13 The LORD standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people. 14 The LORD will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.” Isaiah wrote those words before Hezekiah had become king circa 728 BC.
Yet even though Isaiah had prophesied against Jerusalem, and had also cast doom upon all Israel and Judah who were consequently taken captive into Assyria, the prophet also foretold that Jerusalem itself would be preserved. This is seen in Isaiah chapter 31 where the Word of Yahweh says: “5 As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it. 6 Turn ye unto him from whom the children of Israel have deeply revolted. 7 For in that day every man shall cast away his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which your own hands have made unto you for a sin.” After this preservation of Jerusalem, the people were given two opportunities to repent: during the revival of the repentant king Hezekiah when this event had transpired, and again during the revival of the good king Josiah. In Hezekiah's time Jerusalem was saved from the Assyrian armies which had besieged it, and the people who witnessed such a great salvation still did not keep their obligations to their God. In the time of Josiah the books of the law were recovered and the idolatry was once again put to an end, but when he died the nation slipped immediately back to its old ways.
In 2 Kings chapter 21 we read what had happened when Hezekiah died around 699 BC, and his son ruled in his place: “1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Hephzibah. 2 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, after the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel. 3 For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them.”
Likewise, when Josiah died about 609 BC, his sons departed from his ways and did “evil in the sight of the Lord” as it says of Jehoiakim in 2 Chronicles 36:5 and then of his son Jehoiachin who was only 8 years old when he ruled for a hundred days, which we see in 2 Chronicles 36:9: “Jehoiachin was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months and ten days in Jerusalem: and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD.” This situation indicates that there were appointed administrators, bureaucrats, who were really ruling the city, and who must have been the actual source of much of that evil. But his grandfather Josiah, who was a good king, had also come to rule at age 8, and evidently the good he was able to do was made possible only with the mercy of Yahweh. After Jehoiachin ruled for one year came Nebuchadnezzar to take him hostage and replace him with Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, and it says in 2 Chronicles 36: “12 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD his God, and humbled not himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of the LORD.” As we have the order of the chapters in the prophecy of Jeremiah in the King James Version, the prophet addresses Zedekiah throughout the latter 30 chapters of the book.
The Bible as history cannot be disputed. There was discovered a tablet by archaeologists upon which are recorded some of the chronicles of the Babylonian kings. This tablet is described and its surviving portion is translated on pages 563-564 of Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by James B. Pritchard and published by Princeton University Press in 1969. Under a heading which marks “Year 7, month Kislimu” the tablet reads thus: “The king of Akkad (a title the Babylonian kings had been using) moved his army into Hatti land, laid siege to the city of Judah and the king took the city on the second day of the month Addaru. He appointed in it a (new) king of his liking, took heavy booty from it and brought it into Babylon.” This is certainly a Babylonian record corresponding to the text of 2 Chronicles 36:6-7, where it speaks of the end of the reign of Jehoiakim: “6 Against him came up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and bound him in fetters, to carry him to Babylon. 7 Nebuchadnezzar also carried of the vessels of the house of the LORD to Babylon, and put them in his temple at Babylon.”
The next verse of Habakkuk begins Yahweh's answer to the cries of the prophet:
5 Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvellously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you.
Among the nations, as the word should have been translated, where Yahweh here is certainly not addressing the “heathen”, the vast majority of Israel had already been dispersed or captive. This also seems to indicate that Habakkuk himself may be one of those “among the nations”, and already taken captive to Babylon. Many of the chief men of Judah were taken to Babylon as hostages much earlier than the captivity, the prophet Daniel as a young man being notable among them. Now if that is the case, then the instructions for the performance of the song in chapter 3 would seem to be superficial, yet the possibility must remain open for consideration.
6 For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs. 7 They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves.
Judah would fare better under the laws of Yahweh, but because they did not abide in them they will be subjected to tyrants.
When Josiah died, it is evident that at the first the pharaoh of Egypt had sought to exert influence over Judah, and 2 Chronicles chapter 36 states: “1 Then the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and made him king in his father's stead in Jerusalem. 2 Jehoahaz was twenty and three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. 3 And the king of Egypt put him down at Jerusalem, and condemned the land in an hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. 4 And the king of Egypt made Eliakim his brother king over Judah and Jerusalem, and turned his name to Jehoiakim. And Necho took Jehoahaz his brother, and carried him to Egypt.” After the fall of Assyria there was a struggle for hegemony between the Egyptians and the Babylonians, and the Babylonians prevailed.
We then read in 2 Chronicles chapter 36 that “5 Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem: and he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD his God. 6 Against him came up Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and bound him in fetters, to carry him to Babylon.” But there is more interaction between Jehoiakim and the Babylonians than this, which 2 Chronicles did not record. Earlier in Jehoiakim's rule he was put under tribute by Nebuchadnezzar, and we read in 2 Kings chapters 23 and 24 that “36 Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Zebudah, the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. 37 And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done. 24:1 In his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant three years: then he turned and rebelled against him. 2 And the LORD sent against him bands of the Chaldees, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by his servants the prophets.” Habakkuk must have been one of these prophets, and therefore it is evident that his prophecy must have been from the earlier portion of Jehoiakim's rule, during the first eight years before Nebuchadnezzar came to put him under tribute in 601 or 600 BC. Most of the interaction which Jeremiah had with the kings of Judah, notably with Zedekiah, came only a few years later than this, as Zedekiah came to rule in 598 or 597 BC.
Yahweh's reply to the cries of Habakkuk continue:
8 Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat. 9 They shall come all for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand.
Brenton's Septuagint has verse 9 to read “Destruction shall come upon ungodly men, resisting with their adverse front, and he shall gather the captivity as the sand.” The ASV may be the better rendering: “All of them come for violence. Their horde of faces moves forward. They collect captives like sand.” Thus where the King James Version has “gather the captivity”, this forebodes not those already taken captive by the Assyrians, but rather foretells that a great number of Judahites would be taken captive to Babylon.
10 And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every strong hold; for they shall heap dust, and take it.
Brenton's Septuagint has “10 And he shall be at his ease with kings, and princes are his toys, and he shall mock at every strong-hold, and shall cast a mound, and take possession of it.” The children of Judah and Jerusalem will not be able to stand against the Chaldaeans, and they will be quite easily conquered.
11 Then shall his mind change, and he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.
The Septuagint has the end of this verse to read “...saying 'This strength belongs to my god.'” Here the Word of Yahweh instructs us that the pride of the Chaldaeans will be their own downfall in exchange for what they were given to do to Judah.
In order to illustrate the pride of the Chaldaeans, the attitudes of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians which are described here at this very time, the following is from an inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled Babylon from 605 to 562 BC. It is called the Wadi-Brisa inscription, parts of which are missing or damaged, and it was first published in German in 1906. This English translation is from Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, from page 307:
(ix I-X 40)
(Two lines destroyed) [from] the Upper Sea [to] the Lower Sea (one line destroyed): which Marduk, my lord, has entrusted to me, I have made ... the city of Babylon to the foremost among all the countries and every human habitation; its name I have [made/elevated] to the (most worthy of) praise among the sacred cities.... The sanctuaries of my lords Nebo and Marduk (as a) wise (ruler) … always....
At that time, the Lebanon (La-ab-na-a-nu), the [Cedar] Mountain, the luxurious forest of Marduk, the smell of which is sweet, the hi[gh] cedars of which, (its) pro[duct], another god [has not desired, which] no other king has fe[lled] ... my nâbû Marduk [had desired] as a fitting adornment for the palace of the ruler of heaven and earth, (this Lebanon) over which a foreign enemy was ruling and robbing (it of) its riches - its people were scattered, had ﬂed to a far (away region). (Trusting) in the power of my lords Nebo and Marduk, I organized [my army] for a[n expedition] to the Lebanon. I made that country happy by eradicating its enemy everywhere (lit.: below and above). All its scattered inhabitants I led back to their settlements (lit.: collected and reinstalled). What no former king had done (I achieved): I cut through steep mountains, I split rocks, opened passages and (thus) I constructed a straight road for the (transport of the) cedars. I made the Arahtu ﬂo[at] (down) and carry to Marduk, my king, mighty cedars, high and strong, of precious beauty and of excellent dark quality, the abundant yield of the Lebanon, as (if they be) reed stalks (carried by) the river. Within Babylon [I stored] mulberry wood. I made the inhabitants of the Lebanon live in safety together and let nobody disturb them. In order that nobody might do any harm [to them] I ere[cted there] a stela (showing) me (as) everlasting king (of this region) and built … I, myself, ... established...
The “violence of Lebanon” in reference to the Chaldaeans is referred to in Habakkuk 2:17. Evidently, Nebuchadnezzar considered the inhabitants of the other lands to be the enemies of those lands, and in that manner he himself could justify using the natural resources of those lands for his own gain. In the next portion of the inscription, Nebuchadnezzar reflects the attitude that if successor kings keep his will then they will be blessed in turn:
(four lines destroyed) … people … to ... towards the entrance to the mountain.... Beside my statue as king I wrote an inscription mentioning my name, ... I erected for posterity. May future [kings] res[pect the monuments], remember the praise of the gods (inscribed thereupon). [He who] respects ... my royal name, who does not abrogate my statutes (and) not change my decrees, [his throne] shall be secure, his [li]fe last long, his dynasty shall continue (lit: renew itself)! Rain from the sky, [fl]ood [water] from (the interior of) the earth shall be given to him continually] as a present! He himself shall rule peacefully and in abundance. O Marduk, my lord, do remember my deeds favorably as good [deeds], may (these) my good deeds be always before your mind (so that) my walking in Esagila and Ezida - which I love - may last to old age. May I (remain) always your legitimate governor (šakanakku), may I pull your yoke till (I am) sated with progeny, may my name be remembered in future (days) in a good sense, may my offspring rule forever over the black-headed.
[Since from the various inscriptions in which it appears the term black-headed people can be determined to have nothing to do with any particular race, I have two possible theories of its meaning. The first relates to Homer's use of the term “sun-burnt races” when speaking of the people of the Levant. The second lies in the fact that the people of Cush were the leaders of the early Sumerian culture, and Cush means black. Neither theory is fully developed, and more study is needed.]
In another inscription of the same period, five sons of the king of Judah are mentioned several times, indicating that they were hostages in Babylon and in the care of the palace.
Habakkuk responds to Yahweh's answer and the judgment which He has ordained:
12 Art thou not from everlasting, O LORD my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die. O LORD, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.
The prophet pleads for the survival of the people of Judah with the exclamation “we shall not die”. He then makes a statement which is also a plea for assurance, hoping that the Chaldaeans are only being raised up against Judah for the judgment and correction of the disobedient nation. Being corrected, Israel is not destroyed but rather should be compelled to do the will of God.
This reflects the belief of the prophet that the role of Israel in the world is by compulsion, and that ultimately Israel has no choice but to serve God. Nations other than Israel cannot choose for themselves to replace Israel, and are only used to punish Israel when Israel is disobedient. This is a lesson taught throughout Old Testament scripture.
The prophet continues:
13 Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?
Habakkuk tells us in poetic language that Yahweh God is so pure and good that He should not have to look upon the sins of men. But while he has already plead for justice against the wicked, and that the nation not be entirely destroyed, here he further asks of Yahweh why He would permit whatever righteous people are left in Judah to suffer at the hands of the wicked, by which he means to describe the armies of the Chaldaeans.
14 And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them?
In his earlier answer to the prophet, Yahweh had said in verse 9 that the Chaldaeans would “gather the captivity as the sand”. Here the prophet is using the analogy of fish and nets to describe the promised gathering of Judah as captives, further asking Yahweh why He would permit such a thing. Habakkuk then describes the injustice of the captors:
15 They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad. 16 Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous. 17 Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations?
The prophet is describing the Chaldaeans, who Yahweh had said would take many captives of Judah, and the prophet is contending as to why this should be since the Chaldaeans themselves were unrighteous idolaters, even worshipping the nets by which they would catch men. Habakkuk then asserts that the Chaldaeans have enriched themselves by the conquest of other nations. and therefore they shall not cease from their pillage.
Habakkuk 2:1 I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.
Habakkuk contends with Yahweh God through the end of chapter 1, and here in chapter 2 he portrays himself as waiting for an answer from God to come to him.
2 And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.
Here is the answer Habakkuk awaited, and it reflects Yahweh's resolve. The vision which the prophet is about to receive should put fear into the hearts of those who hear of it. However the answer in the vision is two-fold. One aspect tells the prophet that the people of Israel, especially those who follow after the deeds of the wicked, will indeed suffer the decreed punishment. But the other aspect assures the prophet that the Chaldaeans will indeed be punished in turn.
3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.
The fulfillment shall prove that the prophecy is true, although it shall not be manifest immediately. However if Habakkuk prophesied no earlier than 608 BC, and no later than 601 BC, concerning Judah the prophesy was fulfilled within 22-to-15 years of his writing, by 586 BC. Babylon in turn fell to the Persians in perhaps 539 BC.
4 Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.
This is quoted by Paul of Tarsus in his epistle to the Romans. Because of confusion over which entity the pronouns are referencing, as they are found in translations of the Hebrew to both Greek in the Septuagint and to English in the modern versions, some of the passages in English seem confusing. We shall attempt to sort that out after verse 5.
Paul of Tarsus, in chapter 1 of his epistle to the Romans, had quoted the second half of this verse in reference to the idolatry and the sinful men of Rome. However Paul also used the statement in the context of the wrath of God where he said “16 Truly I am not ashamed of the good message, for it is the ability of Yahweh to guarantee preservation to all who have trust, both to the Judaean at the beginning, then to the Greek: 17 the righteousness of Yahweh is revealed in them from trust in faith; just as it is written, 'But the just will live by faith.' 18 For the wrath of Yahweh is revealed from heaven upon all profane and unjust men, who withhold the truth with injustice.”
5 Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people:
In verse 3, the Septuagint mostly agrees with the King James Version, but in the final clauses, rather than the pronoun it we see the pronoun he. In any event, the reference must be to the promise that the Chaldaeans would come and take Judah captive.
In verse 4, where it says in the King James Version “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him”, the Septuagint has “If he should draw back, my soul has no pleasure in him”. The Septuagint translation seems to be a poor interpretation of the words of the prophet in their original Hebrew, since the copies of Habakkuk found in the Dead Sea Scrolls thoroughly support the reading of the Masoretic Text.
A better rendering of the Hebrew of verse 4 is found in the New Revised Standard translation, which says “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” This is a warning that the Chaldaeans are mean-spirited and proud. But that those who are righteous and faithful in Judah shall survive the judgment of Yahweh being executed through their hands. With this, we see that Habakkuk used the exclamation in the same sense that Paul of Tarsus had later quoted it.
It must not be forgotten that in verse 11 of Habakkuk chapter 1 we saw that the first offense of the Chaldaeans was to impute their power to their own god, which is an idol, when their power had actually come from the God of Israel, as they were raised up only to be a scourge for Israel.
Here in verse 5 we have further reference to the injustice and pride of the Chaldaeans, and as they are successful in conquering nations that their thirst for conquest would not be satisfied. Therefore they are portrayed as having heaped unto themselves all nations and people. This is the same attitude we had seen reflected in Nebuchadnezzar's own inscriptions which we had presented earlier.
6 Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!
It is the nations which the Chaldaeans had conquered who are being portrayed here as taking up this proverb, forecasting the fall of the Babylonians.
7 Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them?
Those who will destroy the Babylonians shall rise up suddenly, meaning that they will become powerful rather quickly. From the popular archeological chronologies, it was apparently 11 years from the time that Cyrus the Great became king of the Persians that he conquered Babylon. This is, of course, the Cyrus of the prophecy of Isaiah chapters 44 and 45.
8 Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.
Those who remain of the nations which Babylon has conquered shall in turn conquer and spoil the Babylonians. This happened when the Persians rose up under Cyrus. Interestingly, the Babylonians themselves had been party to the federation of nations which had destroyed the Assyrians, each of whom had also once been conquered by Assyria. Under Nebuchadnezzar, they in turn immediately followed the pattern of the Assyrians. But while they were rapidly successful, their own hegemony only lasted for about 66 years (from about 605 to 539 BC).
9 Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil! 10 Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul. 11 For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it. 12 Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!
Many great cities have been built on mercantilism, however all great empires have been built at the expense of others, upon blood. For this will Babylon be judged, because as verse 5 says, the Chaldaean “cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people”.
13 Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?
Only Yahweh God should rule as King over His Creation. Yet from the time of Nimrod men sought to conquer and maintain control over their fellow man. It was from this mess that the children of Israel were delivered to be the servant race of God, that He may show man that only He can justly be their king. In the end, Yahweh incarnate as Yahshua Christ shall indeed be sole king over all Adam-kind, and until then men suffer these fiery trials, because all of their own designs are vanity. There is a verse very similar to this one in Jeremiah 51:58, which is also a prophecy against Babylon.
For this reason the children of Israel were chosen, to establish Yahweh's kingdom on earth, and Paul explains of the other Adamic nations in Acts chapter 14 that: “We ... preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: 16 Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.” The people to whom Paul had spoken those things were Lycaonians, they were Japhethites and not Israelites.
It is vanity for man to pursue his own ways, rather than to submit to God in obedience to His Word. When men try to build a society apart from God, they labor in the fire because they are punished by God. Ostensibly, it is for this reason that all of the Adamic nations have been punished, and the remnant of the children of Israel have been used as an example in history. Men do not readily learn the lessons, because they cannot identify the parties. In Christ, all Adamic men shall ultimately understand.
Here there seems to be a transition in the scope of the prophecy, and it shifts to the immediate application concerning Judah and the Chaldaeans, to a broader scope in that it is also relevant to the fall of the Mystery Babylon of the Revelation, especially where Habakkuk continues:
14 For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
This never happened after the Babylonian deportations. Even when all of Judah in Babylon had the opportunity to return for the re-establishment of Judaea in the time of the Persians, only 42,000 or so chose to return, which is evident in the opening chapters of the Book of Ezra. Since this has not happened yet, we anticipate it with the fall of Mystery Babylon, as we await the fulfillment of the words of Christ in Revelation chapter 18. This helps to substantiate the dual nature of Habakkuk's prophecy.
15 Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!
The understanding of what this drunkenness is can be realized in a prophecy made against Babylon in the writings of Jeremiah, just a few years after this prophecy by Habakkuk, from Jeremiah chapter 51: “47 Therefore, behold, the days come, that I will do judgment upon the graven images of Babylon: and her whole land shall be confounded, and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her. 48 Then the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, shall sing for Babylon: for the spoilers shall come unto her from the north, saith the LORD. 49 As Babylon hath caused the slain of Israel to fall, so at Babylon shall fall the slain of all the earth. 50 Ye that have escaped the sword, go away, stand not still: remember the LORD afar off, and let Jerusalem come into your mind. [This is a reference to the captivity of Israel.] 51 We are confounded, because we have heard reproach: shame hath covered our faces: for strangers are come into the sanctuaries of the LORD'S house. 52 Wherefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will do judgment upon her graven images: and through all her land the wounded shall groan. 53 Though Babylon should mount up to heaven, and though she should fortify the height of her strength, yet from me shall spoilers come unto her, saith the LORD. 54 A sound of a cry cometh from Babylon, and great destruction from the land of the Chaldeans: 55 Because the LORD hath spoiled Babylon, and destroyed out of her the great voice; when her waves do roar like great waters, a noise of their voice is uttered: 56 Because the spoiler is come upon her, even upon Babylon, and her mighty men are taken, every one of their bows is broken: for the LORD God of recompences shall surely requite. 57 And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise men, her captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men: and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts. 58 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire; and the people shall labour in vain, and the folk in the fire, and they shall be weary.”
We see Paul, in Romans chapter 11, describe from the words of the prophet Isaiah the “spirit of slumber” which Yahweh God sends upon man, ostensibly so that man, wise in his own devices, is blind to the punishment which he is about to receive for his sins.
This drunkenness must therefore be allegorical, describing the blindness of men who deceive one another in their own conceit, while God has plans for them which are quite different from what they may expect.
This is also relevant for the end of these days, where we expect the fall of Mystery Babylon. Today we have world rulers who think they have everything in their control. Today we have a media and entertainment industry which, in conjunction with the organized religions that follow its lead, all function as agencies for those world leaders, and once again make men drunk with lies and their nakedness shall ultimately be uncovered.
16 Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the LORD'S right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory.
Let thy foreskin be uncovered: the Babylonians were among the “uncircumcised” who are outside of the covenants and promises of God and would therefore be consumed. The “cup of the Lord's right hand” is the same “cup of wrath” we read of in Revelation chapter 16: “19 … and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.”
17 For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid, because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.
Earlier we have seen in the inscriptions of Nebuchadnezzar that he himself had bragged of his conquest of Lebanon, and the words of Yahweh by the prophet here must be referring to that same thing. Here it may observed, that one of the very reasons why Yahweh has an issue with the Chaldaeans is also one of the very things which Nebuchadnezzar had bragged about in the inscriptions he had made. The violence of Lebanon is made an example of the sins of the Babylonians against the remnant of Israel. This is a remarkable proof of the veracity of Habakkuk's prophecy, for the Hebrew prophet could not have known aforetime that Nebuchadnezzar's boasting of his conquest of Lebanon would be dug out of the ground over 2,500 years after-the-fact, or that we at this extreme time would be considering his own words.
18 What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? 19 Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.
We have just seen the prophecy of Jeremiah, where Yahweh had further chastised the Babylonians for their idolatry, in Jeremiah 51:47 where it says: “Therefore, behold, the days come, that I will do judgment upon the graven images of Babylon: and her whole land shall be confounded, and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her.” While the Babylonians were outside of the covenants of Abraham and Israel, the Chaldaeans and some of the other tribes of ancient Sumer were nevertheless of the wider Adamic race which was also being judged by Yahweh God for their idolatry, as Paul explains to the Athenians in Acts chapter 17.
These end the words of Yahweh in reply to the query of Habakkuk. The last line seems to be a conclusion written by the prophet himself, and the word “but” may have better been translated as “now”:
20 But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.
The destruction of ancient Babylon, not long after Habakkuk made these pronouncements, is proof that the God of Israel is God indeed. For this reason, men should fear Him, because He has established Himself through His prophets.
This is the end of the dialogue between Yahweh and the prophet Habakkuk, but it is not the end of the message of prophecy, which in chapter 3 is continued in a song which was evidently composed by the prophet for the singers and musicians in the temple in Jerusalem.
Habakkuk 3:1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth.
Perhaps “for Shigionoth” may have been a better rendering of the preposition, since the word evidently describes a poetic style. As we explained in the introduction to this prophecy, Shigionoth is said to mean “a wild passionate song with rapid changes of rhythm”.
2 O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.
The prophet opens his song as a response to the words which he had heard in chapter 2, where Yahweh described to him the judgment to come upon Judah, and then also upon Babylon. By “thy work” the prophet alludes to the Kingdom of God represented by Judah and Jerusalem, expressing the hope that it would be built anew at some point following its coming destruction. The prophet has accepted the words of Yahweh concerning the coming judgment upon Judah, and now pleads that God be merciful when executing that judgment.
3 God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. Selah. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.
Here Habakkuk seems to borrow poetic language from the Song of Moses, found in Deuteronomy chapter 33: “The LORD came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery law for them.” However while the language is similar, the meaning does not necessarily have to be similar to that of Moses. Some supposed scholars claim that since Teman is to the east, therefore God is being compared here to the rising sun, as the following verse describes the brightness of God being as the light of day. However the word teman (Strong's # 8487) means south, as it was often clearly used in contrast to points north, east and west and therefore does not mean east. Teman was a city of the Edomites, who were situated to the south of Judah. Paran was also in the south, the name apparently means place of caverns, and it was near the desert of Sinai. There are references to the “wilderness of Paran” in the writings of Moses. Deuteronomy chapter 1 lists Paran along with several other places as being near “the plain over against the Red Sea”.
Today's archaeologists, Biblical and otherwise, profess uncertainty as to the location of ancient Teman. Often it is associated with a place called Ma'an, in modern Jordan just northeast of the Gulf of Aqaba. However there is little reason which prevents it from being associated with Tema, also spelled Tayma, which is to the east of the Red Sea in modern Saudi Arabia. The city Tema was prominent in the Babylonian period, it was an important hub of the caravan routes between Egypt, Babylonia and the Levant, and the Babylonians kept a large garrison of troops there. During the rule of Nabonidus it served as a sort of second capital, that king having spent ten years of his rule there, only returning to Babylon a short time before the Persian conquest. During his absence from Babylon, his son Belshazzar, who is known to us from the Book of Daniel, exercised rule over the city. Much of this was recorded in Babylonian inscriptions, and can be seen in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, on pages 305 through 315.
Where the prophecy of Amos says in its opening verses that “the LORD cometh forth out of his place”, it is an allegory portraying the Assyrians by whom Yahweh was about to bring judgment upon Israel. Where Isaiah chapter 30 says that “the name of the LORD cometh from far, burning with his anger”, it is an allegory of the judgment to come upon the Assyrians themselves at the hand of all the nations which joined against them. Likewise in Isaiah chapter 26 where we read in the final verse that “the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity”.
Therefore it is likely here that where it says “God came from Teman”, it is an indication that the judgment coming upon Judah was going to be executed from Teman. Whether the Babylonian troops came from Teman in 586 BC or not, Teman was an Edomite city and later Scriptures tell us that the Edomites, who were also vassals to the Babylonians, played a significant part in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Psalm 137, written during the captivity, later says “1 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion”, and then “7 Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.” In chapter 4 of the apocryphal version of the Book of Ezra, which is called 1 Esdras in the Septuagint, the scribe says to the Persian king “45 Thou also hast vowed to build up the temple, which the Edomites burned when Judea was made desolate by the Chaldees.”
However there may also be a corresponding and valid mythological representation made in this verse. The ancient symbol of the Phoenix is portrayed in Malachi chapter 4 where we read “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings”. According to Book 2 of The Histories of Herodotus, where he describes the legend of the Phoenix the bird arises in Arabia, which is to the south of Judah. Perhaps that is another literary component of the picture being drawn in the words of the prophet here.
4 And his brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand: and there was the hiding of his power. 5 Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet. 6 He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting. 7 I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction: and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. 8 Was the LORD displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation?
Salvation is evidently not salvation for everyone, for here it is seen in the destruction of men and nations. Just as the prophecy in chapter 2 first told of judgment upon Judah, and then in turn upon Babylon, here the prophet in his song seems to turn from one to the other in that same manner. Jerusalem was judged, but then Yahweh was angry and displeased “against the rivers” and the “the sea”, which are the other races and nations of the world.
9 Thy bow was made quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Selah. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers. 10 The mountains saw thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high. 11 The sun and moon stood still in their habitation: at the light of thine arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear.
The mountains and rivers represent nations and races. In other prophecies, the sun and moon represent worldly governments either Godly or fleshly.
12 Thou didst march through the land in indignation, thou didst thresh the heathen in anger.
The word for heathen is the same word usually translated as nations, and it should probably be nations in at least most of the places where it appears. The conquering armies, seen as a judgment from God, are portrayed allegorically as being a facet of God Himself.
13 Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, even for salvation with thine anointed; thou woundedst the head out of the house of the wicked, by discovering the foundation unto the neck. Selah. 14 Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages: they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly.
Even in their captivity, Israel and Judah would be preserved in the destruction of all those who had destroyed them. The head of the wicked refers to the throne of Babylon. However the prophecy in chapter 2 as well as the song here in chapter 3 there is application to the future Mystery Babylon as well. The allegorical reference to the wounding of the head can be associated with Genesis 3:15, where of the seed of the woman it is said to the serpent that “it shall bruise thy head”.
15 Thou didst walk through the sea with thine horses, through the heap of great waters.
The horses did not walk through the seas, but rather these are allegories. The seas and waters represent the masses of people in large and small nations. In the end of the Revelation it is said that with a new heaven and a new earth there shall be “no more sea”, and thereafter there are only the twelve tribes of the children of Israel, who are also the City of God come down from heaven.
16 When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble: when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops.
Habakkuk is pained to think of the judgment which is ordained to come upon the people.
17 Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:
Even with all of this pain, the prophet remains faithful to his God, saying:
18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. 19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.
The Septuagint does not interpret the last phrase to be an instruction for the choir, but rather as a part of the message, where it has verse 19 to read: “The Lord God is my strength, and he will perfectly strengthen my feet; he mounts me upon high places, that I may conquer by his song.” The Latin of the Vulgate agrees.