THE PROPHET’S PROBLEM: God’s Means of Justice
God, where is justice? Why are You insensitive, indifferent, and inactive to the cry of the righteous? How long will You remain silent? cried Habakkuk, as he sat overwhelmed by the social and moral corruption flooding the land.
Insensitive? Indifferent? Inactive? Not God! Although it might seem as if He were a sleeping Sovereign, God was very much awake and engaged in the affairs that were taking place in the Middle East.
God always has an answer to the plight, plea, and prayer of the righteous, but not always the answer the righteous expect. So it was with Habakkuk! God would put forth an incredible answer to his prayer which would leave the prophet perplexed.
THE CHALDEANS CHOSEN (vv. 5-6)
God is full of surprises to His people! Habakkuk was about to have his eyes opened to the full-orbed program that the Lord had planned for Judah.
First, Habakkuk was made aware of God’s world involvement, “Behold among the nations . . .” (v. 5). The Lord wanted him to see the big picture, have a worldview, for the prophet and people were to understand that God controls every event among the nations of the world. As the songwriter has penned, “He’s got the whole world in His hand.” Not only was Habakkuk to see it but “regard” (v. 5) or weigh well what God was doing.
What was God doing? He had raised the Chaldeans to great power. They were a Semitic people tracing their history back to Nahor, the brother of Abraham (Gen. 22:23). The Chaldeans settled in the area known as Babylon, thus they were called the Babylonians. Nabopolassar, king of Babylon, was on the move in Habakkuk’s day. He had destroyed the powerful Assyrian Empire (612 B.C.) which ruled the Middle East in the seventh century B.C. Nebuchadnezzar (son of Nabopolassar) had defeated Pharaoh-neco and his army at Carchemish (605 B.C.) and was now knocking on the door of Jerusalem.
Is God inactive and indifferent to injustice? No! God was saying to the prophet, If I have intervened in the affairs of the nations, will I do less with My people Judah? Surely not!
Many Christians do not have a worldview; they suffer from spiritual myopia. One needs to extend his sight globally and see the Lord’s involvement; justice does prevail as God raises up one nation and puts down another.
With social and moral corruption going unchecked in the United States, many are asking, Why has God not judged the country? It must be remembered that the wheels of God’s justice grind slowly, but they keep on grinding. In His punitive righteousness, God must and will act upon the nation if repentance is not forthcoming. Like the Babylonians, God has raised up powerful nations who are on the move today and could bring a deathblow to the United States if He so allowed. The Christian can learn a lesson from Habakkuk’s experience — that God acts with a worldview in mind.
Second, Habakkuk is made aware of the wonder of God’s involvement, “Behold . . . and wonder marvelously” (v. 5). The words “wonder marvelously” literally mean amazed, amazed. When God reveals to Judah the way in which He will judge the nation’s sin, both the prophet and people will be shocked into disbelief. It will be so startling that they “will not believe, though it be told” (v. 5) to them; they just could not believe that God would allow them to be destroyed by the heathenish Babylonians. Jeremiah echoed the same disbelief by the people: “They have denied the Lord, and said, It is not he; neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword or famine” (Jer. 5:12).
Prophet after prophet proclaimed judgment was coming to a particular generation, but few ever believed it. Noah’s generation did not believe it until the flood swept them away (Gen. 6-7). Lot did not believe until fire and brimstone were rained on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:15-25). The ten tribes did not believe until the Assyrians destroyed them (2 Ki. 15:29; 17:4-24). During this age men do not believe that the earth will suffer from God’s judgment (2 Pet. 3:4).
If asked today, many would not believe that God would allow the United States to be leveled because of its sin. For some reason there are those who see this country as a chosen people, privileged above others, one which cannot be touched with God’s judgment. Remember, God will judge the sinful nation; world history bears this out.
When Paul preached in the synagogue at Antioch, he applied Habakkuk’s prophecy as a warning to those who would reject the messiahship of Jesus (Acts 13:41). Paul’s quote is altered somewhat because he used the Septuagint translation. Neither is he using the quote as a fulfillment of Habakkuk 1:5 but simply as an analogy. Through unbelief, the Jews in Paul’s day were positioned for the same type of judgment as those Habakkuk had warned (Acts 13:40).
What was the judgment in Habakkuk’s day? The Chaldeans would completely destroy Judah. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans in 586 B.C. was a foreshadow of the Roman destruction in 70 A.D. By divine appointment on each occasion Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed on the same day, the ninth of Av (Tisha b’ Av).
Paul not only applies the prophecy physically, but spiritually as well, having reference to the destruction of eternal damnation which will come upon all who reject Jesus, both Jew and Gentile.
Third, Habakkuk is made aware of God’s work which would be incredible, “. . . I will work a work in your days . . .” (v. 5). What is the work? God would “raise up the Chaldeans . . . which shall march through the breadth of the land” (v. 6) and destroy Judah. When the Lord speaks of raising up the Chaldeans, it is not with reference to their coming forth as a world power, since they had been that for twenty years. God is referring to the Chaldeans specifically raised up to bring judgment on Judah.
Notice, it is God who raises nations up for His own purpose. Though God allows nations to become world powers, He has no part in their ungodly character or actions, but simply allows their evil propensities to be manifested for the purpose of judgment.
The Chaldeans will be “bitter” (fierce and cruel), “hasty” (move with impetuousness and rapidity), and “march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs” (v. 6).
Although God reveals His plan to raise up the Chaldeans, He does not give any reason for His choice or action. Why? For three reasons. First, an infinite God is under no obligation to explain His actions to a finite creation. God’s dealing with Job is a classic illustration. Although God allowed Job to go through intense suffering and to question his experience, He never fully explained His purpose for doing so (Job 38-42). God is sovereign and can do with His creation whatever He desires. This is seen in His dealing with Israel (Rom. 9-11). It must be remembered that God does all things right (Rom. 11:33-36).
Second, God’s thoughts and ways are different from those of man, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8-9), says God. Man, on his own, will never understand God’s actions apart from His Word.
Third, God does not give any reason for His actions, because the plan is so unbelievable that the prophet and people would refuse to believe it when they were told (v. 5).
A modern-day parallel to the impending brutal invasion by Babylon is the Holocaust in World War II. Many ask, How could a loving God allow six million Jewish people to perish at the hands of Nazi brutality?
Though judgment for disobedience was predicted on the Jewish people centuries before (Dt. 28:15-67), the horrors of the 1933-45 Holocaust, if told to the people, would have been unforeseen, incomprehensible, and unbelievable. In fact, at the beginning of the Holocaust many Jews in Europe felt no imminent danger of any mass persecution, even though Hitler harassed and intimidated them severely.
The Holocaust has been debated for almost forty years without men coming to a satisfactory explanation of why it was allowed to happen. There is no answer that will satisfy apart from a biblical explanation.
It must be remembered that whatever happens to man, God is sovereignly in control of His creation and does all things perfectly, even though man cannot understand His actions. It must be remembered that man is limited in his perception and sees only a few frames in the total picture of God’s program. But the Lord knows the whole story, seeing it from beginning to end. It must be remembered, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God . . .” (Dt. 29:29). Moses is saying that man should have a settled faith in God, even though He chooses not to reveal the reasons for all of His acts. It must be remembered that God does not work in the time and manner of man’s expectation. Such is the case with Judah.
THE CHALDEANS’ CHARACTER (vv. 7-11)
The Chaldeans manifested savage characteristics. They are described as being “terrible and dreadful” (v. 7), because they are devoid of any mercy or compassion. One writer is very descriptive as he portrays the barbarities which they poured out on their enemies. He writes:
Just one paragraph is needed to show their savagery . . . Ashurnasirpal’s cruelties were especially revolting. Pyramids of human heads marked the path of the conqueror; boys and girls were burnt alive or reserved for a worse fate; men were impaled, flayed alive, blinded, or deprived of their hands and feet, of their ears and noses, while the women and children were carried into slavery, the captured city plundered and reduced to ashes, and the trees in its neighbourhood cut down . . . How deeply seated was the thirst for blood and vengeance on an enemy is examplified in a bas-relief which represents Ashurnasirpal and his queen feasting in their garden while the head of the conquered Elamite king hangs from a tree above. What the Assyrians had previously been, the Chaldeans subsequently became, and this was the nation which God was raising up as His instrument of judgment.1
The most powerful armies melted away at their awesome strength and inhumanity. Habakkuk says, “. . . their judgment and their dignity shall proceed from themselves” (v. 7), meaning the Babylonians were a law unto themselves. They recognized the power of no other nation, nor any other political system but their own. Nebuchadnezzar is a clear example of this, for his word was law. He was the highest in the land, and he recognized no god but himself, until the Lord humbled him (Dan. 4).
The Chaldeans were swift in conquest. The swiftness with which they will descend upon Judah is described in animalistic terms. First, “Their horses also are swifter than the leopards [panthers]” (v. 8). None is more swift in attack than the bloodthirsty panther, whose feet barely touch the ground as he darts towards his prey. Second, they are “more fierce than the evening wolves” (v. 8). Wolves deprived of food comb vast areas looking for a meal at great risk to their lives. Third, “their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly like the eagle that hasteth to eat” (v. 8). The eagle (a great vulture), with keen sight, circles high above its prey waiting for the proper time to swiftly strike and snatch it for himself. No wonder the Judeans were terrified at the news that God was sending the Babylonians. Yet Moses predicted it centuries earlier (Dt. 28:49-50).
No wall, gate, or city was impregnable to the Babylonians: “. . . they shall deride every stronghold; for they shall heap dust, and take it” (v. 10). Laughing at the defenses of their enemy, the Babylonians simply built mounds of dirt against the city walls and besieged it (Ezek. 26:7-14).
The Chaldeans would secure and scorn their captives. They came for one reason, “violence” (v. 9), which they thrived upon. After their victory, “they shall gather the captives as the sand” (v. 9).
The king of Babylon would scoff and scorn (v. 10) the leaders whom he conquered and then make sport of them. The king and princes were caged like animals, after which the people mocked and ridiculed the monarch, then he was decapitated. Similar treatment was suffered by King Jehoiakim, who was bound in fetters and carried off to Babylon during the first deportation of Judah (2 Chr. 36:6).
The Chaldeans had a sweeping conquest of the Middle East. After the Babylonian conquest of Judah, “Then shall his mind change [lit., then he shall sweep on like the wind], and he shall pass over, and offend [be guilty], imputing this his power unto his god” (v. 11). Although the verse seems difficult to interpret, God is simply saying that the Chaldeans, like a strong wind, will sweep away all that is before them. But since they used such inhumane treatment against the people they had conquered, their cup of “guilt” was being filled up before God who would eventually judge them.
The Chaldeans did not impute “this his power unto his god” (v. 11) for victory over the Middle East, but praised their own might and ability as the source of victory. This was exactly what Nebuchadnezzar claimed for himself (Dan. 4:30). He claimed his own strength was his god, a pattern which will be followed by the Antichrist when he comes (Dan. 11:37-38).
Such was the answer to Habakkuk’s prayer. Often the Christian will pray, God, where is justice? Do something about the moral and social corruption flooding the United States. But what if God were to reveal how He was going to right the wrongs in this country. He is full of surprises; it might mean the demise of America — it did for Judah!
The election is less than a month away. Pray for the right leadership, those who will look to God for answers and bring this nation to a spiritual renewal, before a modern-day Chaldean arises over the horizon on the wings of judgment.
- Frederick A.Tatford, The Minor Prophets: Prophet of The Watchtower (An Exposition of Habakkuk), (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, Inc., 1982), Vol. II, p.24.