Habakkuk’s response to God’s announcement about Babylon being the answer to Judah’s evil is completely natural. Why would God use evil to defeat evil? Why not put a righteous leader over them? Why not bring about justice instead of simply crushing one evil with an even bigger evil? Habakkuk’s expectations are ultimately met in Christ, but in his lifetime he would see the reaping of what has been sown by Judah.
I Accept It
Hab 1:12 Are you not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.
Habakkuk starts by acknowledging that God is eternal, sovereign, and holy. Clearly Habakkuk believes what God is telling him even though he’s having difficulty grasping divine reasoning. He appeals to God very personally and humbly, calling upon Him as “my God, my Holy One” and “you, O Rock.” In light of this news that God is sending the Babylonians against them, Habakkuk must have been astounded. The translated text presents the phrase “We shall not die” as a sentence. It is very likely that this was more of a question. To Habakkuk’s ears it must have sounded like the coming of the Babylonians spelled the end of Judah. Habakkuk was humbly appealing to God not to kill the last tribe of Israel and at the same time seemed to be amazed and terrified at the idea that God would visit such disaster on His own chosen people. Never the less, there was no getting around the fact that Babylon was God’s chosen instrument to punish Judah for its rebellious heart.
But I Do Not Understand It
Hab 1:13 You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?
Even though Habakkuk believes, he doesn’t understand. God is holy. He is the Creator. He is the Rock of hope and salvation. He spoke to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David and reckoned faith as righteousness to them. Habakkuk knew of God using righteous men to punish the unrighteous or otherwise carry out God’s will, but the idea of God using evil to punish people who in his mind were far less evil was, at the very least, not in character with his idea of God. How can a pure God look on evil, let alone use evil? How can God not only permit but also direct evil to conquer good? From a purely human perspective those are very legitimate questions. Like Habakkuk, we often forget that God is sovereign and that all men are fallen creatures in need to redemption. Solomon proclaimed that none are righteous. Habakkuk’s complaint is based on the false assumption that men, even “good” men, were worthy of protection from harsh punishment.
Hab 1:14-17 You make mankind like the fish of the sea, like crawling things that have no ruler. He brings all of them up with a hook; he drags them out with his net; he gathers them in his dragnet; so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and makes offerings to his dragnet; for by them he lives in luxury, and his food is rich. Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?
This passage draws out the heart of Habakkuk’s question raised in 1:13. Habakkuk’s anxiety is obvious as he pleads the case of Babylon’s wickedness to his Holy God. He seems to be blaming God for leaving people without the security of a good leader to protect them (1:14). The “he” referenced in 1:15-17 is Babylon’s king. Evil captures people like fish in a net. Those who do evil give a great deal for their nets. They spend time honing their netting skills, money to improve their nets, clean and store their nets, and so forth. Habakkuk uses the “net” analogy to make a point, not because the Babylonian army literally caught people in fish nets. Nets represent all that go into the craft of conquest. In our time a net could be the expensive and impressive suit and briefcase of the executive, or the awesome power of the military – depending on context. In either case the general public is like fish. They have only the direction of what is popular and who is in charge (whether by money or guns). Habakkuk realizes that although the people don’t have freedom because a mortal enemy is about to capture them. Not only is this instrument of rebuke going to capture them, but he will take pleasure in the conquest. Habakkuk closes by asking if this is how it is always going to be from now on? In other words, he’s asking God if this is the end of the story, or will the evil punisher himself be punished by the righteous?
Habakkuk Awaits the Answer
Hab 2:1 I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
Habakkuk is a believer. He is confident the Lord will answer. What he doesn’t know yet is whether he will be glad of the answer. He anticipates that God will hold him accountable for his questions. Will he be glad he asked, or sorry? Habakkuk himself does not yet know how he will respond to what God has to say next. Regardless, he has enough faith to ask and expect and answer.