Well, I currently can’t sleep due to a nap I took in the car today (no, I was not driving), so I thought I would wrap up some loose ends! And this blog has a few loose ends here and there, to be sure. Tonight, it’s a Habakkukian loose end.
I mentioned last May 30 that I had been up late studying Habakkuk, and someone asked me what in particular I had studied or learned. It’s hard to answer that concisely, because for a book of its size, it’s rather rich in value. I have a full Bible Study on the matter planned for our areas here in Ohio as soon as the dust settles with our new speaking schedules, but I can comment on some of it here. Since I have already commented on a few things before, I will take advantage of that and add some links where I can and save the longer comments for newer things. (And I will save much of the “nitty gritty” for our local Bible Study.)
(1) Habakkuk is a book about faith when God’s ways don’t seem to make sense. I commented on this back on November 6, 2009 (“Noah, Habakkuk, and Faith (and a mistake I made)”), so I will keep this short. But Habakkuk was apparently a man of great faith. He was able to ask God hard questions—in this case, he essentially asks, “God, how can you punish Judah for its sins by using Babylon, when Babylon’s sins are even worse?”—which requires an intimate relationship with God. In faith, he trusted God’s righteousness, and knew there would be an answer. He expected to have his understanding corrected by God (Hab. 2:1), and God faithfully did so.
God does have a plan. And He points out that the Babylon—the Chaldeans—will have their comeuppance, as well. Their history of building their empire on the bloody backs of others—the “debt” that they incurred by doing so—will one day come to haunt them, God tells Habakkuk (vv.6-8). And, indeed, it was. God’s timeline is not always the same as ours, but his justice is sure and dependable. But when you are surrounded by injustice, it takes faith to wait for the end of things—sometimes an end that one may not see until his resurrection.
Mr. John Ogwyn once said that Habakkuk was personally encouraging to him and some he knew because of this aspect and the lesson that book teaches about faith. When God told Habakkuk that he was going to punish Judah for their sins by using the Chaldeans, it must have seemed like the world was upside down: punish the bad by uplifting the worse! Mr. Ogwyn spoke of times when he could look around and it seemed like the world was upside down, with the wicked going unpunished, and Habakkuk’s lesson encouraged him and his cohorts.
Habakkuk teaches us to trust God and to wait on Him to accomplish His perfect will in His own way and in His own time.
Again, I wrote about this some time back, so feel free to read my comments then, and I will skip to the next item…
(2) Habakkuk is a beautiful book. Habakkuk was either a very gifted writer and God was able to take advantage of that talent, or God gave him a special measure of talent in writing the book, because it is simply pretty. The statement of faith that Habakkuk closes with in verses 17-19 is very moving, methinks.
Habakkuk is generally recognized by many as beautifully written book in Hebrew, and I find that easy to believe. According to some, the last chapter of Habakkuk (called by JFB “a sublime ode”) was apparently sung by Levitical singers as a hymn.
I spoke a tiny bit about such sentiment back in that November post, as well.
(3) Habakkuk proves that prophecy does not have to be about America (or the UK) to be profitable. (Note: All prophecy is “prophetable” but it is also profitable! And, yes, I do think I am very funny, thanks for asking…)
It’s too easy to focus on the United States and Great Britain in prophecy (which is a great booklet, by the way—and free!) and to therefore ignore books like Habakkuk, which are not directly about those nations. To do that is to miss some fantastic instruction, and God intends us to feed upon the entirety of His word (Matthew 4:4, Luke 4:4, Psalm 119:160).
Habakkuk is a good example of that. It isn’t a prophecy directly about modern day Israel—it has to do with Babylon, or the Chaldeans. (If you have taken the Living University course THL 212, you already know this; if you haven’t taken the course, you should!) It’s tempting to see our favorite countries in every prophecy that seems like it might fit, and I have met many who approach Bible prophecy that way. For instance, I’ve met many who saw Russia in the Beast Power (wrong) and who see New York in Babylon (wrong). But that isn’t the biblical approach.
Mr. Herbert Armstrong taught us important points about properly understanding prophecy that the Living Church of God—in particular, Mr. Richard Ames on the telecast—continues to teach. (See, for example, Mr. Ames’ Five Keys for Prophetic Understanding article and his Five Keys to Understanding Prophecy television broadcast.) We identify modern nations in ancient Biblical prophecy by (and this will sound so obvious that it will seem dumb) knowing the modern identities of the ancient nations mentioned in those Biblical prophecies and by letting the Bible interpret itself (Isa. 28:9-10).
On both counts, it is clear that Habakkuk chapter 2 is not a direct prophecy about the United States and/or Great Britain. For one, God says directly in Habakkuk 1:6 that He is speaking of the Chaldeans, or Babylon, and that is the heart of Habakkuk’s question: How can God use this horrible, violent, pagan people in this way? And as much as some viewers (not in the church) of the Telecast may want me to believe it, the United States is not the modern day Babylon or the Chaldeans.
And secondly (if God’s direct identification of the people is not enough), the Bible interprets the Bible, and the connection between the nation being spoken and Babylon is clear biblically, with numerous scriptural parallels that demonstrate who God is talking about. (We’ll go over these in our Bible Study later.)
So, if the prophecy is not about America, and, even more, it was fulfilled historically, then we can just forget about it, right? No! Matthew 4:4 is still true! And Habakkuk has so much to say to us today, regardless of our nationality.
Consider these two things, for starters:
(1) Even when there is a historical fulfillment, sometimes a prophecy contains elements that establish patterns or information relevant to a future fulfillment, as well, and the historical fulfillment becomes a type. While this can be abused, it is still certainly true. For me, the textbook example of this is the historical fulfillment of parts of Daniel 11 by Antiochus Epiphanes which, according to Jesus Christ, will be fulfilled, again, in the future (Matt. 24:15, Mark 13:14). Even though Christ was well aware of his own nation’s history, and surely aware of the connection to Daniel, He pointed out that there was future fulfillment ahead. So “fulfilled” prophecy shouldn’t be too easily written off as having no possible future meaning.
Habakkuk has several elements that, even though the “guts” of it were fulfilled historically, indicate that there may be future fulfillments. For instance, Habakkuk 2:3 speaks of “the appointed time” and how “at the end” the vision will speak. Of course, the end of the matter did come with Babylon’s fall, when the appointed time arrived, yet the language just begs us to consider the end, and that appointed time. Is there reason to do so?
Sure! Habakkuk 2:14 clearly indicates to us that God has in mind the ultimate future when God’s Kingdom will rule the entire world as the time when all such wrongs as Babylon has committed will be righted. If He was mindful of the ultimate “end” in verse 14, might He have been so in His other pronouncements? Also, although Habakkuk’s prayer of chapter 3 contains clearly poetic imagery, is it not also clear that the times ahead of us, as prophesied in many other places in Scripture, will fulfill much of this poetic imagery more fully than anything in the past ever has? (E.g., Hab. 3:12-13, Rev. 11:15-19.)
Might these things suggest that there may be future fulfillments in store for modern Babylon, even though these things may, to great extent, have already been fulfilled by ancient Babylon in the past? I think they might!
(2) Some of the themes & principles used in Habakkuk have universal applicability. Let’s consider an easy one first…
For instance, Habakkuk 2:4b, “But the just shall live by his faith.” This verse is quoted by Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11. God’s “correction” (cf. v.1) of Habakkuk should correct us all when we get caught up in despair about what we see around us, not looking with the eyes of faith. This is as true today as it ever was 2600 years ago when it was written.
Here’s a less straightforward one: Habakkuk 2:6-8. In this case, it is easy to think that God is talking about ancient Chaldeans having financial debt, but we need to read carefully (cf. 2 Tim 2:15, Isa 28:9-10). Yes, Babylon “increases what is not his” (v.6), but this is not by literal debt (though they may have had some debts), but by plunder and taking it from others (v.8). As God, Himself, explains what He means when He says of Babylon in chapter 1: “For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation which marches through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs.” They did this by ruthlessly conquering other nations and taking their lands, as the context of these verses makes clear. Yet in doing so, they built up a “debt” and took on “pledges” that, ultimately, demanded repayment (vv.7-8). Using debt as a symbol of the vengeance due one for wrong doing is not unique here, but is used in many other places; as God says, “Because the plunderer comes against her, against Babylon, and her mighty men are taken. Every one of their bows is broken; For the LORD is the God of recompense, He will surely repay” (Jer. 51:56). (And please forgive my Texan, but—boy howdy, how Babylon’s debt is going to be repaid!)
But, again, here is a universal theme. God may mean the debt of Habakkuk 2:6-8 may be symbolic, but He is only able to use the debt/payment symbolism because it is a universal principle: when you owe, there comes a time to pay up.
Dr. Douglas Winnail used the universality of this statement in a recent Tomorrow’s World article (bold emphasis mine):
“Other Hebrew prophets also warned repeatedly that the future demise of God’s chosen Israelite peoples would come ‘suddenly’ and unexpectedly (Isaiah 9:14–15; 29:5; 30:13; Jeremiah 6:26; 15:8). Modern financial analysts realize this could happen if the nations lending to America decide to dump the dollar and call their loans. The prophet Habakkuk’s warning to the ancient Babylonians, ‘Will not your creditors rise up suddenly?’ (Habakkuk 2:7)—may also ring true for debt-plagued nations like America and its Israelite cousins. Prophetic scripture contains a sobering message: debt and disobedience lead to the demise of nations!”
Note what Dr. Winnail is saying here: Although Habakkuk is not speaking directly about the modern day Israelites (as he says, “Habakkuk’s warning to the ancient Babylonians”), that warning—because it reflects a universal principle—“may also ring true” for other debt-plagued nations! And, among others, America and the UK certainly should take heed. Though the prophecy is not about America, specifically, the principle is universal (cf. Proverbs 22:7).
Mr. Don Davis has done something similar, in another Tomorrow’s World article:
“What exactly is good leadership? Down through the history of the human race, countless nations have experimented with almost every imaginable form of government. Kingdoms, oligarchies, republics, democracies, dictatorships and anarchies have come and gone. Feudalism, socialism, communism and capitalism—under their various guises—have all proven to be unstable and unsustainable economic systems. ‘Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by crime! Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?’ (Habakkuk 2:12–13, NIV).”
Again, Habakkuk’s isn’t a prophecy specifically about America, but the principle is universal!
There is so much to be said, but I’ve already said more than I should. After all, I do plan to give a Bible Study in my area about this book and if you faithful Ohioans read it all here, what good would that do?
But I had been asked, and I wanted to answer. (Sorry I have taken so long to do so!) The fact is, Habakkuk is a remarkable book, and being only three short chapters in length, it can provide both a quick read and a meaty meditation in one serving. Don’t let the fact that it is not a prophecy about America or the UK cause you to minimize it or neglect it—God has placed it within His Word for a reason, and it is just as powerful and profitable today as it was two-and-a-half millennia ago when it was first penned.