Habakkuk 2

1 God did not answer Habakkuk's question immediately. Habakkuk (probably figuratively) had to wait and watch for the answer as a sentinel would guard the city gates from a watchtower, not know at what time someone might come against it. He waited for God to speak inside him. He knew God had an answer and would correct his thinking about this question, and he was trying to anticipate how he would respond.
2 God does answer Habakkuk, and the response is not for him alone. He is to write it down and let others read it, not keep it inside himself. It is to be a permanent record inscribed on clay tablets, allowing for reflection once the events had passed.
There are several possible interpretations of the purpose of the next sentence:
  • To warn the people so that those who believed the message would be terrified and run away from the area in an attempt to escape the coming onslaught
  • To make it possible for a herald to run with the message to various places.
  • To make it possible for someone to "run" their eyes over it rather than simply hear it.
  • To make the message clear enough so that when displayed in public, even those casually "running by" could understand it.
Clarke disputes the last claim, saying that God has always encouraged deep understanding of His word, not offhand perusal. While the third claim is a natural result of writing something down, it would seem more likely that the author intends to indicate the urgency of the prophecy, as would be captured in either or both of the first suggestions.
3 God's timing of events is carefully planned. In the Scriptures, He warns people ahead of time of both good and bad events. Some prophecies take place very quickly, but others are given hundreds of years before they are fulfilled. Fulfilled prophecies were the prophet's vindication, but many prophets would outlive their predictions. However, what is more important is that people have faith in God's word no matter how long it takes to be fulfilled. This verse may sound like the prophecy would take a long time to come about, but the first invasion of Judah would have taken place within seven years of this prophecy in 605 BC, and the destruction of Judah occurred 19 years after that in 586 BC.
4 God then gives Habakkuk a proverb that is quoted in the New Testament (e.g., Rom 1:17). It has specific application to Babylon and even to its emperor, Nebuchadnezzar, but it also applies generally to all people. The proud ("swollen" or "puffed up") are those who feel they do not need God. They are self-sufficient both physically and morally. Yet, while they consider themselves right, they are not "straight" in the eyes of God. The righteous, however, have faith in God, which means that they look to Him for direction, for sustenance, and eternal hope (Gen 15:6). In fact, it is further explained in Heb 11:6 that without faith (specifically, in Christ - John 3:16), one cannot please God. The righteous will "live," implying that the proud will not live in the spiritual or eternal sense.
5 Adding drunkenness to pride and unrighteousness makes one even worse because it lowers whatever inhibitions are left in a person. Drunkenness was commonplace in Babylon - as the first century Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus put it, "the Babylonians give themselves wholly to wine, and the things which follow upon drunkenness" (volume 1). Here, Nebuchadnezzar is likened to Sheol, the place of the dead, which, if personified, would never seem to be satisfied with the number of people it collected. His unbridled ambition and greed increased even more with the intoxication of both wine and power. The king of Babylon wanted to conquer the world. Yet, in the end, intoxication would be one factor that led to Babylon's downfall (Dan 5). This verse is both a general proverb and a specific prophecy.
6 The rest of this chapter is a song mocking Babylon for its eventual fall. There are five specific sets of verses. The first mocks Babylon's greed in attaining, but inability to maintain power. When Babylon would finally fall, others would mock them in much the same way as they still do when a proud and cruel person comes to ruin. It is often called "poetic justice" when someone who has committed evil atrocities either self-destructs or eventually succumbs to the same treatment.

It will become obvious that Babylon outstretched its ability to rule. The "loans" here do not refer to money, but to power. They would eventually conquer more people than they could control, which would leave them open for a complete takeover. It was just a matter of time.

7 Regardless of how governments attain power, it is held, to some degree, with the consent of those under them. Rulers biblically "owe" their subjects organization, safety, prosperity, and godly influence. If a ruler fails to provide these things, the people might organize themselves, oust the ruler, and appoint their own governors. It is obvious that the Babylonians were completely self-serving. Their lust was to conquer and kill, not serve and protect. At least some of the nations Babylon subjugated would rise up and seize control again, demanding interest, as it were, for the pain they had suffered.
8 The Chaldeans would be world conquers in their own site, but while their empire was large, they did not conquer everyone. Some have speculated that the Babylonians may have conquered the Medes and Persians (who were actually allies with Babylon against Nineveh in 612BC), but there is no conclusive evidence supporting this. These two nations would combine their power, rise up against Babylon, and the ruling government would change in one night in 539 BC. Historically, this last Babylonian empire would be a powerful nation for less than 90 years. The atrocities they had inflicted - bloodshed, violence, and looting - would all come back against them. Their punishment would fit the crime.
9 The second great evil the Babylonians were guilty of was the attempt to permanently establish their nation through greed, deception, and violence. They thought that if they had enough wealth that they could build towers and citadels that would make them as unassailable as an eagle that built her nest on an inaccessible mountaintop. Undoubtedly, this alludes to the first days of Babylon when the nation attempted to build a tower that would reach to heaven for the sake of international prominence (Gen 11:1-9). A wall 11 miles long, 85 feet thick, and 330 feet high surrounded the last city of Babylon. It also had the famous hanging gardens, now considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. They did not concern themselves with how they attained their money required to build their impressive structures, so they committed all kinds of evil to gain it, completely unaware that God would hold them accountable for their actions.
10 Part of Babylon's strategy was to magnify its greatness by destroying everyone else, i.e., they elevated themselves at the expense of others. This is a shameful thing before God, and the degree to which they took it even did harm to themselves. Politically, they eliminated any chance of loyalty, and spiritually, they doomed their own souls because they would be held accountable for their actions.
11 The picture here is that the Babylonians were building their "house" with the bodies of those whom they had conquered. The "stones" and the "timbers," as it were, would answer each other in crying out for justice. God certainly would hear it all.
12 The Babylonians had already been condemned for their zeal in bloodshed and greed, but they did not stop there. After the victory, they oppressed the vanquished terribly, enslaving them to build magnificent cities. Their methods of forced labor were cruel as well, killing and beating their slaves with no concern for human life.
13 Yet, all that the Babylonians were building would be brought to ruin. In fact, this verse indicates that the destruction of all man's work by fire will be universal. In the End, there will be no tall buildings, impressive works of art, or anything that people have designed and built. They will all be destroyed and replaced with the New Jerusalem, which God is building for His people. Those who do not understand their transient existence in this life labor for things that will not last. God and the souls of people will last forever, so if one does not work to build their relationship with God and encourage others to do the same, then he will be left with nothing on Judgment Day.
14 Currently, evil is a hindrance that keeps people from knowing God. After it is destroyed, everyone will know God and recognize His magnificence. This prophecy is stated several times throughout Scripture.
15 The next woe is against the whole warfare process that Babylon used, allegorically compared it to forced intoxication and rape. There is again the hint that Babylon would "intoxicate" their victims with assurances while preparing their armies to attack. The invading armies would then unexpectedly pillage and plunder the land, and often ravished the women as well. The horrors of war would have a "staggering" effect on the survivors. While weary, heartsick, and displaced, they would seem to wander aimlessly and stumble around for a while like drunkards.

We are told in other places that God commissioned Babylon to make war against some nations to punish them, but Babylon obviously far overstepped its bounds in extent and methodology. Even though they were directed to conquer Israel, they showed God's people no respect. They fully exposed them, probably both figuratively and literally, to humiliate them and show their weaknesses. The Babylonians took great pleasure in humiliating others, and were so exalted in their own sight.

16 Babylon would not enjoy their splendor long, however. The cup of God's wrath would soon be poured out on the Babylonians, and they would be humiliated and exposed - revealing not only that they were weak, but also that they were uncircumcised and separated from God. Like anyone who drinks too much, the Babylonians would figuratively throw up. Instead of reveling in glory, they will be wallowing in their vomit. The imagery used here are very appropriate given that Babylon was conquered after a night of drunken parties.
17 God gives a specific example of the Chaldeans' violence for which they will be punished. They attacked Lebanon, a city north of Israel, and killed many people. The invaders apparently wreaked havoc on the town and the surrounding land, even destroying the wildlife in the area. Many have suggested that the Babylonians felled large quantities of Lebanon's famous cedar trees for military and building purposes, causing an environmental disaster that only added to God's displeasure.

Some have suggested that Lebanon figuratively refers to Jerusalem or Judah or the royal family, while the beasts represent the Israelites being slaughtered like animals. Others disagree, indicating that nothing internally or externally demands such an interpretation. Lebanon is used symbolically elsewhere, but those cases are clear about the allusion. Lebanon may be given as an example of the Chaldeans' excess violence because there is no clear indication that God wanted them disciplined, but the Babylonians conquered them out of their mere desire to do so.

18 The fifth woe concerns Babylon's idolatry. Nothing angers God more than misplaced divine reverence, and He had already pointed out Babylon's self-worship (Hab 1:11). There are many forms of idolatry including the worship of people, angels, demons, plants, animals, inanimate objects, and philosophies, but the most conspicuous offense in Babylon was idol worship. It seems foolish to attempt to make something greater than oneself, especially when one starts with lesser materials. At least one evidence that carving a piece of wood into an image fails to make it a god is it's inability to speak, much less do anything like affect one's circumstances (the literal translation is "speechless nothings"). One cannot expect any profit, physical or spiritual, from worshiping inanimate objects. The image itself is a "teacher of falsehood" only in the sense that its maker and those who worship it project imaginary powers upon it, usually fueled by mythology or coincidental happenings.
19 Perhaps it should seem obvious to reasonable people that statues made of wood and metal cannot be alive. How then would someone expect such an object to teach or help him in any way? It is not mere foolishness, it is actually a source of great grief that will only become obvious to most on Judgment Day when the Living God makes Himself plainly perceptible to everyone. The only value an idol has is either in the beauty of the work or the value of the materials from which it is made. To suppose anything beyond that is delusional.
20 The world may be making a great commotion while attempting to communicate with their imaginary gods, but all people should be reverencing God, and listening quietly for His teachings. He is in His holy temple (referring to heaven, not merely the Temple at Jerusalem at that time), and we should be waiting expectantly for Him.