Previous article in this series: September 1 2022, p. 466.
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. 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? And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them? 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. Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous. Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations? 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 1:12-2:1
When Habakkuk, in the last days of that kingdom, spoke to God of Judah’s wickedness, God told him that the Babylonians were coming and that God would use them to punish Judah for her sins: “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” (Hab. 1:6). God’s answer only raised further questions in Habakkuk’s mind, “How could God, a righteous judge, use wickedness to punish wickedness, wicked Babylon to punish wicked Judah?” Even more, “How could God use a nation that was even more wicked than Judah to punish Judah?” That is the burden of Habakkuk in 1:12-2:1 of his prophecy.
In verse 12 Habakkuk first acknowledges the answer God had already given him: “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.” Focusing on what he knows of God Himself, he acknowledges that God has sovereignly and eternally ordained all things, a marvelous confession of God’s sovereignty over evil. He acknowledges God’s holiness, that He is too pure of eyes to look on evil; He acknowledges that God is his God and the God of Israel, who cannot cast off His people whom He foreknew. He twice calls God “Jehovah,” confessing God’s unbreakable covenant with His people and His covenant faithfulness in the past. Six things, then, Habakkuk says of God: He is eternal; He is Jehovah the unchangeable God of His people; He is holy; He is the one who ordains all things from eternity; He is almighty; and He is faithful.
When Habakkuk speaks this way of God, he is saying “yes” to God’s previous answer and saying, “Yes, it must be so because God is eternal and unchangeable, the Holy One, the one who ordains all things and brings them to pass, and Jehovah, the God of His people.” Certainly He would punish Judah and would do it in His own way and time, according to what He had ordained. Certainly He would save His people too: “We shall not die” (v. 12). Habakkuk comes very close to saying, “And how foolish I was even to bring up the matter of Judah’s wickedness and the desperate situation of God’s people: the answers to my questions are in the very nature of God Himself, and I should have realized that.”
What a lesson for us! All our questions, struggles, fears, too, are answered in knowing who God is in His sovereignty, His holiness, and His covenant faithfulness. Our questions are answered when we ask ourselves, “Who is God?” Then doubts are vanquished and fears vanish, but only then.
What Habakkuk says of God is also a response to the word of God in verse 11: “Then…he shall pass over, and offend, imputing this his power unto his god.” He is referring to the kings of the Chaldeans, who were all like Belshazzar: “They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone” (Dan. 5:4), ascribing their successes, victories, power, and wealth to their idols. Habakkuk knew, as we do, the truth of Psalm 115:4-7, “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.” And the truth of verse 3, “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.”
The heart of his confession is the statement, “Thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction.” He is referring to the Chaldeans, who were ordained by God for Judah’s correction and given their kingdom and power for Judah’s chastisement.
His confession is amazing, on the order of what Scripture says in Romans 9:17, “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.”
Not all Habakkuk’s questions were answered, however. God’s use of the Chaldeans to punish Judah perplexed him. How could a righteous God use such a wicked nation as the Chaldeans to punish Judah? That is a question that should be asked more often. Always God chastises and corrects His people, though we are so dull that we often do not see what happens as His chastisement. Trouble in the church and at home, the rising tide of wickedness in a nation, all such things are His chastisement. His chastisement is always necessary, not only because we are all sinners but because we bear a certain corporate responsibility for all that happens in the church and in the nation. That chastisement is often meted out through very wicked men, heretics in the church and leaders in the nation who sanction and give their blessing to every kind of evil. Then the question is: “Wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?”
Judah had sinned grievously and God’s people in Judah had gone along or were guilty by association, but the Chaldeans were self-willed, violent, without counsel, respecting no judgment but their own, worshipers of idols to whom they ascribed their successes. Why did God use them to punish Judah? Why does God use wicked nations such as the United States and Canada, who have thrown off every restraint, to chastise His people and His church?
It is possible that Habakkuk was thinking of Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 23:21 when he said, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously?” (v. 13), for he uses many of the same words as Balaam did when he said, “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.” And, like Balaam, Habakkuk stood upon a kind of watchtower: “For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him” (Num. 23:9). How could those words of Balaam be reconciled with God’s seeing the iniquity of Israel so clearly that He would use the wicked Chaldeans against them, while at the same time He seemed not to see the wickedness of the Chaldeans?
Such use of the Chaldeans seemed to Habakkuk to contradict God’s holiness. Surely in His holiness He was a God who would punish Judah’s sins, but as One who was “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity,” how could He look on the Chaldeans as a fit instrument for His purposes with Judah. “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 goes on to emphasize their wickedness in verses 14-17:
And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them? 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. Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous. Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay the nations?
The Chaldeans, in the folly of their unbelief and idolatry, were like fisherman catching the nations in their net or with a hook (an angle) and rejoicing over their cruelties—like fishermen who would then worship their net and offer sacrifice to it, because it was their net that brought them their portion and their meat. Habakkuk adds, “Will it never end? Will they be like fishermen, who when they have emptied their net, go out and cast their net again? When they have caught Judah in their net, who will be next? Will they be allowed to destroy all the nations and fill the earth with their wickedness? Where is the God of judgment? Why does He linger, who will surely punish Judah, but who allows a nation even more wicked to prosper and flourish?”
Habakkuk’s reference to fishermen is a reference to the cruelty of the Chaldeans who continued the Assyrian practice of stringing their captives together with hooks through their noses or lips like fish and whose monuments (that is, those of the Chaldeans) show their gods dragging captives in a fishing net.
Habakkuk’s puzzlement is similar, then, to that of Asaph in Psalm 73:3-11:
For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish. They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression: they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth. Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?
God’s people suffer and the wicked prosper in their wickedness. If God is purer of eyes than to behold evil, how can such things be? Do His eyes, so pure, not see? Such questions arise when God delays, or so it seems. God’s people know, as Habakkuk did, that He is a God of judgment, the Holy One, but why so long in judgment? Why does He not come and destroy the wicked and their wickedness?
Chapter 2:1 is part of Habakkuk’s inquiry. He means that he will wait for God’s answer, but waiting, he expected to be reproved. That is a beautiful acknowledgment of his weakness and sin, the kind of acknowledgment that every child of God makes when he stands before His heavenly Father, distressed, disturbed, asking, and praying. He is always like the father who came to Jesus and said, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” And always God does correct, reprove, and help, always remembering that we are dust. We see that in Scripture, for “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Tim. 3:16, 17).
Habakkuk’s reference to his watch or watchtower is a reference to his position as a watchman for God’s people. His inquiries were not only his but those of all the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal. For their sakes as well as his own he would wait for an answer from God and, when it came, he would cry the news to them.
For that answer Habakkuk would wait. He would “stand” upon his watchtower until an answer came. In that Habakkuk does what every child of God should do, for God answers in His own way and in His own time. In that already, Habakkuk shows that the just shall live by faith. Waiting on God is an act of faith, for it is done in the confidence that God will answer and that His answer will be good, even when He reproves and corrects.
From his watchtower Habakkuk would see the dust stirred up by the advance of the Chaldeans, and he would see the smoke of their judgment; but he would also see an explanation of the Lord’s ways, for His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. More importantly, from his watchtower he would see Christ, just as Balaam saw Him long before: “the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them” (Num. 23:24). He would see Christ by faith and would tell those who were waiting that the just shall live by their faith.
How appropriate, then, the prayer of Calvin:
Grant, Almighty God, that as thou seest us labouring under so much weakness, yea, with our minds so blinded that our faith falters at the smallest perplexities, and almost fails altogether—O grant that by the power of thy Spirit we may be raised up above this world, and learn more and more to renounce our own counsels, and so to come to thee, that we may stand fixed in our watch-tower, ever hoping, through thy power, for whatever thou hast promised to us, though thou shouldst not immediately make it manifest to us that thou hast faithfully spoken; and may we thus give full proof of our faith and patience, and proceed in the course of our warfare, until at length we ascend, above all watch-towers, into that blessed rest, where we shall no more watch with an attentive mind, but see, face to face, in thine image, whatever can be wished, and whatever is needful for our perfect happiness, through Christ our Lord. Amen.