The description of Israel’s devastation was so terrifying that Habakkuk is faced with a new problem. The punishment for one evil was creating an even greater evil and the problem of reconciling this with Yahweh’s character was perplexing. From the fact that there is no mention of Israel surviving and the purpose of God being preserved according to His Name, and Babylon’s ultimate doom, Habakkuk is caused to initially draw wrong conclusions.

1:12-17 The Mystified Prophet Appeals To The Character Of God: Israel Is Bad But The Chaldeans Are Worse.

 1:12 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.

 Habakkuk, unable to reconcile the terrible holocaust to come on the Name-bearing people, respectfully addresses God. The terms he uses are pertinent to the turmoil of his mind. He firstly invokes the Memorial Name of God, YAHWEH Elohim, by which Israel’s redemption and salvation is guaranteed. God’s Name is irrevocably committed to this end. The Name of Yahweh stands for the redemption of Israel OUT OF EGYPT and INTO Canaan, the Land of Promise; it guarantees the existence of Israel. This was without a shadow of doubt the significance attached to it when proclaimed. Read carefully Exodus 3 and 6 and note how many times the words “out of” and “from Egypt” and “into Canaan”, occur. “Yahweh” is the name of Redemption for Israel. Thus, concerning the Second Exodus, we read, “I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine HOLY NAME’S SAKE …” (Ezek 36:22). See also Ezek 20 where the First Exodus (from Egypt) and the Second Exodus (from among the nations) of natural Israel are recounted. The terms “out of” and “into” frequently occur amidst declarations of the Name itself.

Likewise spiritual Israel has been created for the glorification of the Name in which they are incorporated by faith in the Gospel. God is taking OUT OF the Gentiles a people FOR His Name. They are thus “called by His name” and have been created for His praise and glory (cp Isa 43:7, 21; Jer 13:11; 33:8-9). These passages refer primarily to the natural seed of Israel, but the principle applies also to those who are “Jews inwardly” (cp Acts 15:14).

“Art thou not from everlasting …. we shall not die.” – The preservation of Israel is Yahweh’s purpose – kept in memory by the Name itself. Seeing He is from “everlasting”, His purpose is also. Israel then cannot perish, or, to use the words of the prophet, “we shall not die”. This is Habakkuk’s faith and understanding. In this he was correct (Mal 3:6; Isa 43:1-7; cp Deut 33:26-29). In these verses the eternity of God is also linked strongly with Israel’s salvation. This passage was in his mind. See note: “O mighty God”.

 “Mine Holy One” – Heb “Kadish”, from a root meaning to be clean, separate, holy”; that is, God is separate from man. God’s HOLINESS is frequently associated with His ability to JUDGE righteously in distinction from men (1 Sam 16:7; Isa 11:1-4). Thus on numerous occasions holiness is accorded to His throne and judgment (Rev 4:8; see also notes Hab 2:20). In this, God is “separate” from men. From his limited perspective Habakkuk could not see how God could be holy whilst permitting the ruthless, idolatrous Chaldean to triumph over Israel.

“Thou hast ordained them for judgment … thou hast established them for correction.” RSV “… hast established them as a chastisement”. This is what God had just told him. They were to judge Israel on God’s account. This was a “hard pill for Habakkuk to swallow”, appearing to him to have the ingredients of a miscarriage of justice. But God had anticipated his incredulity. He had told him that he would “wonder marvellously”, and that he would “not believe” the work He would do “even though it was told him” (Hab 1:5).

O mighty God” Heb “Tzur”, and hence, “Oh Rock” in RV, RSV, etc. It speaks of God as a firm, reliable, unyielding power in whom Israel can trust for deliverance (Deut 32:30; Psa 18:2, 31, 46; 19:14; 73:26 [mg]; 144:1). This is a direct reference to Deut 32:4 where God is first styled a “Rock” by Moses in the Song of Witness (Deut 31:19, 21, 26). Note how relevant the context is. In it the righteousness of Yahweh is emphasised. “He is the ROCK, His work is PERFECT: for ALL HIS WAYS are JUDGMENT (ie just): a God of TRUTH and without iniquity, JUST and RIGHT is He”. This is the very aspect that the prophet cannot reconcile with the proposed Chaldean desecration of his people.

In this amazing “Song of Witness” (Deut 32) the spotlessness of Yahweh’s character is first declared and then the history of Israel is plainly foretold. The idea is that in punishing and then saving His people, God will maintain His justice. Habakkuk’s mind was in this passage. Not only does it speak of God as a Rock but also of the perversity of the nation. In it God assures Israel that despite their rebelliousness He will ultimately move and vindicate them when they are utterly weakened by the hostile invasion by their enemies. The prophet cannot see how this fits in with so complete a judgment as described in v 8-10.

Deuteronomy 28 – 33 and Habakkuk

 The drama of Habakkuk revolves around the vision and prophecy of these chapters in Deuteronomy. 1. 1:8 – Deut 28:49. God describes the destruction of Judah in terms which recall the language of Deut 28:49. 2. 1:11 – Deut 32:26-27. A prophecy that punishment on Israel would be controlled and limited because the oppressing power would say, “Our hand is high, and Yahweh hath not done all this”. 3. 1:12 – Deut 32:4. Habakkuk’s reply is in terms of the Song of Witness, especially the term “Rock”. See notes on “O Mighty God”. 4. 2:4 – Deut 32:20. Israel is described as “Chil dren in whom is no faith”. Habakkuk is indicted for his unbelief in terms very much the same, “The just shall live by his faith” (2:4). These are the only two occasions where the word “faith” occurs in the Old Testament and the same Hebrew word is used (“Emuneh”). 5. 3:3 – Deut 33:2. The final vision in which Habakkuk is assured of the salvation of Israel is based on Moses’ last words. 6. 3:19 – Deut 32:13. Yahweh’s redemption of Israel is described by Moses, “He made him ride on the high places of the earth”. Habakkuk’s last words and hope is the same, “he will make me to walk upon mine high places”.

 1:13 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?

 In Habakkuk’s limited view of the situation, God was “beholding evil” and “looking on iniquity” (that is, condoning it) in raising up the cruel Chaldean against Judah. The wicked were to devour the more righteouspeople of God! This is the essence of his complaint to God. But let it be noted that earlier he himself had complained about Judah’s wickedness and called for judgment (v2- 4). Now having heard the terrible judgments being prepared by God he reverses his plea and cannot appreciate the justice of it! He thinks God has utterly forsaken His promises.

In this we can appreciate that Habakkuk was a patriotic and loyal Israelite. He was nationalistic and felt deeply the calamity of his people. In this he was like the great men of his people who prayed for the peace of Jerusalem and longed for a change of heart in the Name-bearing nation (cp Neh 1:4-11; Ezra 9:1-15; Ezek 9:4; Dan 9:3-19; Mat 23:37-39; Rom 9:1-5; 10:1).

1:14 And makest men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things that have no ruler over them.

 As the “fishes of the sea” fall prey to the cunning of men, so would Jewry before the organised might of Babylon. They would be caught in her net (v15). The same figure is used of Babylon catching the “whale in the seas”, even Egypt (Ezek 32:2; 29:3). To have no ruler is to lack co-ordination and discipline which is essential in defence. God had told the prophet that kings and princes would be a scorn to Nebuchadnezzar (v10). If Habakkuk was acquainted with Deut 28, as has been suggested, then he knew that their king would be taken into captivity (v36). This would leave them a pitiable, disorganised rabble. Would Yahweh permit this?

1:15 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.

 This is a reply to God’s words in v11, where He convicts the Chaldean of guilt for imputing his victory to his idols. Habakkuk says that it is only reasonable that if he is permitted sustained conquest he will rejoice and lift up his heart and praise his gods (cp Nebuchadnezzar’s boast, Dan 4:30). The implication is that Babylon will have no cause for rejoicing if Judah is preserved – so preserve Judah!

1:16 Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.

 The “drag” and “net” are put for their idols, to whom they impute the power of victory (v11). So Habakkuk reasons that not only can they be expected to be lifted up with pride (v15), but naturally they will sacrifice to that which they consider to be the source of their victory. So he challenges God for condemning the Chaldeans for ascribing victory to their gods. Of course they will do this! Perhaps he is even suggesting that God is encouraging idolatry!

1:17 Shall they therefore empty their net, and not spare continually to slay nations?

 RSV “Is he then to keep on emptying his net, and mercilessly slaying the nations forever?” In the vision of vv5-11 there is no mention of any demise of the Babylonian power or end of his conquests. From the description of his swift decisive victories and the powerlessness of his victims, the impression could easily be taken that he will go on slaying forever. This is how the prophet took the words. But verse 11 had not been taken into account. If in God’s eyes the Chaldean was to “transgress and be guilty”, then he must die and could not “slay forever”!

The idea is that seeing he was made rich by conquest, he would be encouraged to oppress forever. To Habakkuk this was inconsistent. How could God justify this? He implies that God ought to cut short the Chaldean victories, and then he would not do what otherwise was logical – worship his idols. This would mean that Judah would be spared, which was his heart’s desire. Also God’s Holy Name would be preserved. But he had sadly misconstrued God’s intentions and God duly points this out to him in the next chapter. God did not condemn Habakkuk for his appeal. His attitude was a characteristic of many of the faithful (see v13). Instead Yahweh persevered with him and enlarged his vision. Subsequently he grasped the whole situation – that the Chaldean (and his latter day counterpart) would not go unpunished and Israel would be preserved. In this knowledge he rejoices in God (3:16).