The prophet Habakkuk cried out to the Lord for all the violence and injustice he was seeing—violence and injustice that seemed unchecked by God. He wondered why God would “idly look at wrong” (Habakkuk 1:3). God responded to him by telling him that Habakkuk wouldn’t believe all that God was doing about evil and wickedness in the world, even if God were to tell him. God is ever at work though rarely and without depth can we see what it is God is doing. You can read more about that interaction here. Habakkuk responded to God’s answer.
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. 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? 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?Habakkuk 1:12–2:1 ESV
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.
He repeats his previous assertion through his question: if God is so powerful and so righteous and holy, why does he allow evil and wicked men to continue in their evil and wicked ways? Habakkuk’s concern was the danger Babylon posed to Judah. He questions why such a wicked person such as Babylon (the nation being personified as an evil man) should be allowed to swallow up “the man more righteous than he”. It is clear that the nation of Judah is not actually righteous; what he really means is that Judah is not quite as evil as Babylon, if for no other reason than that there are some who are faithful to God in Judah, whereas there are none in Babylon. He then accuses God of allowing humans to behave like lower animals (“You make mankind like the fish of the sea…”). The result of this is Babylon is able to just scoop them up like fish in a net. If God won’t do something about this, who will?
The Lord answers him, telling him to write the answer on tablets so that all may read and hear what the Lord says (2:2). He assures Habakkuk that the time is coming:
For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.Habakkuk 2:3 ESV
God then pronounces the coming judgment on Babylon. He declares Babylon is “puffed up”—arrogant—but the righteous person shall live by his faith in God (2:4). The judgment is pronounced through five “woes”. First, Babylon will be judged for his excessive greed (2:6–8), for heaping “up what is not his own”. Babylon’s wealth was stolen wealth and God promises that those from whom the wealth was stolen will suddenly arise and reclaim it. Because Babylon plundered many nations, it will be plundered.
The second woe is for relying on that ill-gotten wealth for protection (2:9–11). Through his evil Babylon has forfeited his life and the reckoning is coming.
The third woe is for his violence and injustice (2:12–14). Rather than acting in a manner that revealed God’s character, Babylon’s wickedness obscured it, yet God promises that “the earth will be filled the knowledge of” him.
The fourth woe is for his violence against his neighbors (2:15–17). This violence will be turned back against Babylon. The “cup” they have made the nations drink will be forced upon Babylon.
The fifth woe is for Babylon’s idolatry (2:18–20). The foolishness of idolatry is made plain in how an idol comes into existence: it is shaped by the human hands that make it. The crux of the problem is “its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols”. Not only does an idol owe its existence to a mere human who fashioned it, it’s not even fashioned all that well: it cannot even speak! Then God declares a truth that ought to bring great joy to his people:
But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.Habakkuk 2:20 ESV
Unlike the idols Babylon made and then worshiped, the Lord God of Israel is real and alive and active and very present in his holy temple, and he is not silent! Whereas Babylon’s idols were speechless blocks of wood and clay and metal, the one true God is not speechless and he commands all the earth to keep silence before him. This is because the Lord has something to say to the nations. He is the one who deserves honor and praise. He is the one worthy of worship and adoration. He is the one who ought to be feared and pursued.
God assures Habakkuk that Babylon’s evil will not go unpunished. Judgment is coming, even if it comes after God allows still more misery to be inflicted on the world by that nation of evil men. As great as that judgment will be, God indicates something greater still is coming: himself. If the earth would be silent before him and would submit to him and worship him, the earth would then receive him. Implicit in God’s words to Habakkuk is the offer of his grace and mercy, of his salvation. God is offering himself to the world. What is greater than coming judgment? God is.
While judgment is coming for all the Babylons of the world, whether nations or individuals, the promise of God is that all who will come to him in faith will never be cast out (John 6:37). Let us never forget that the gospel is, primarily, a proclamation of good news, of the victory of Jesus over the forces of sin and death. Through his death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus defeated the enemies of God and his people. While judgment is a very real thing that is coming to the world, God beckons the whole earth to come to him and be silent.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.John 5:24 ESV