Habakkuk is a book for today!

The Great Isaiah Scroll, picture taken by John C. Trevor
Not Habakkuk, but Isaiah. Still pretty, though!

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.

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14 thoughts on “Habakkuk is a book for today!

  1. That is truly outstanding, Mr. Smith. Thanks in particular for underlining that chapter 2 is about Babylon’s “debt” and not our own.

    Might I add a point to your first several?

    (2a) Habakkuk – all of it – is magnificent vocal music. It is indeed very beautiful to read in Hebrew (and I say that, as you know, as one who can), but it’s not just chapter 3 that was sung by the Levites and prophets. The entire Hebrew Bible was sung in public reading (cf., for example, Psalms 119:54, NKJV: “Your statutes have been my songs [zemirot,/i>, songs accompanied by plucked stringed instruments] in the house of my pilgrimage” – not songs about God’s statutes as in Psalms 19 and 119, but statutes as songs). To this day in the Masoretic Text there is one notation style for Psalms, Proverbs and the body of Job, and another for everything else. Habakkuk 3 has a verse form like that of “psalmodia”, but it has a melodic style like that of “prosodia” such as is used in the rest of the book. We have the privilege of being able to hear the combination thanks to the work of the late Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (alas, it was never performed for recording or, so far as I know, even transcribed into score form). The combination is striking indeed. (The last verse suggests to me that Habakkuk was himself a choirmaster of the Levites – one with a prophetic gift like those of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun.)

  2. In the beginning of the last statement, I mean that 1) Habakkuk 2 is not talking about modern Israel, but about the Chaldeans (and it could hardly be limited to the ancient ones); 2) it is not talking (at all!) about literal financial debt, but uses such debt as a metaphor to point to repayment for ill-gotten gains through war (and also uses metaphorically the suddenness by which creditors can seek such repayment when debt is in default). I’m not sure that everyone among us who discusses this passage understands that distinction.

    The reason why I get concerned about things like this is the ancient and stubborn practice of “proof-texting” by both Jews and Gentile Christians. Many Jews and others accuse the New Testament authors, and Paul in particular, of doing just that. In fact they do not, but to understand that one has to get by superficial appearances. If we don’t, not only do we “proof-text” ourselves and cause people to stumble thereby (myself included when I was younger), but we miss out on real riches of understanding when we really discover how the New Testament uses the Old, and why.

    Let’s believe the right things for the right reasons!

  3. I do find interesting the concept of universality of scripture. There is much talk about the dual fulfillment of certain prophecies, and while I believe this is true, it may be due to the fact that, because God views things from an eternal perspective, what He says in a specific situation holds for all situations like it. For example, the blessings and cursings of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 didn’t just apply to ancient Israel, nor to the modern-day descendants, but to all people chosen by God and given His commandments, statutes and judgments. It just so happens that those two examples fit into that set. Rev. 22:14-15 shows that this continues to hold true for all time.

    I’m not saying that some statements or prophecies of God can’t simply apply to a specific situation. But like you said, Mr. Smith, the spiritual principle behind such statements or prophecies are eternal and universal and may apply to any person or nation that repeats them.

    Another example would be the Old Testament writings pertaining to David or to ancient Israel that Christ later declared applied to Him. Some of these make perfect sense, like the “My Servant” passages of Isaiah. Others leave you scratching your head because they seem to be taken out of context. Yet this would seem to be another form of universality of scripture.

    (Mind you, this concept may need some tweaking, but it’s been rolling around in my brain for a while).

  4. Hi Mike,

    Feel free to drop in any time, Mr. Smith… 😀

    Some things in Scripture certainly are universal. One of them is the universality of God’s law (which lies behind “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people”). But the specific application of even universal principles can differ. Israel’s specific punishment for breaking God’s covenant isn’t the same, or given at the same time, as that laid upon the Gentiles. That’s why there’s the Great Tribulation on the one hand and the Day of the LORD (including the Seven Last Plagues) on the other. The latter comes because the whole world has “broken the everlasting covenant” which lies behind all the others, namely that represented by the Ark of the Covenant, that is, justice, mercy and faith as founded on God’s law, Christ’s sacrifice and God’s promises (cf. Isaiah 24:1-6, especially verse 5, and Revelation 11:14-19, especially verse 19).

    We get into much more dangerous ground when we start saying that “universality of Scripture” explains why (for example) writings pertaining to David or to ancient Israel are applied to Jesus Christ. That is indeed “proof-texting”, and by that means you can “prove” anything you want…as many have and still do.

    I found in Alfred Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah the only explanation of how the New Testament uses the Old (with regard to Jesus Christ) that makes sense overall to me. The Jews of Jesus’ day and well afterward understood that all the miraculous events that happened to Israel in biblical times would happen again in the times of the Messiah. This is the general basis of typology in the Bible. Thus the Jews understood King David as a type of King Messiah; Israel and/or Ephraim (called God’s firstborn son) as a type of King Messiah, the Son of God; the sufferings of “Rachel” in Nebuchadnezzar’s day (and the return from captivity that would follow) as reflected in Messianic times; and so on. So when the original (and even the apostate) Church pointed out how well Jesus fit the antitype for these things in addition to fulfilling a number of direct prophecies, Judaism had to explain away or else abandon its own traditional interpretations of Scripture with regard to the Messiah.

    One of the fundamental thought processes of all human beings is perception of the hidden connections between concepts; another is perception of the hidden symbolism behind concepts. Both thought processes play very heavily in Scripture under Divine inspiration. Both concepts in this present evil world have become very discredited on the one hand or else subverted to paganism and superstition on the other – and this is certainly by Satan’s design. It’s one way he blinds people to what the Bible means to tell them.

  5. Pingback: Habakkuk is a book for today! (via Thoughts En Route) « The Chronicles of Johanan Rakkav

  6. Dropping in as requested… Good point, Mr. Wheeler. The point I tried to make is that in Habakkuk we see some universal themes expressed, but not that whatever the Bible says should be freely applied to any circumstance, because not everything is meant universally. It looks like we agree.

    Dropping out again. 🙂

  7. Thanks for the correction, gentlemen! I think I came at this from the wrong angle, so my apologies for the confusion. To say that we could apply any scripture in any way or in any place that we wanted… Well yes, I could see why that wording would cause some consternation, and that wasn’t quite my intention.

    I guess the poorly-worded idea I was trying to express is the eternal and universal themes that God points out in the scriptures (the Messiah, His Kingdom, His Law and His subjects being exemplified by physical types or symbols over and over and over). While this all probably seems obvious on the surface, I am really beginning to notice many more examples of this (including a few new ones for me that Mr. Wheeler listed) that it has become overwhelming.

    It’s almost like a photo-mosaic picture that is made up of hundreds of smaller images, each representing the specific color, line or shape needed for that section of the larger. Each of the stories, songs, statements and statutes the OT has to offer also help to paint a piece of the Big Picture the NT helps clarify. Some of the pieces may still not be fully understood where or how they fit, hence the “out of context” statement I made earlier.

    Mr. Wheeler, I appreciate you addressing the issues (and I have many) and I’ll have to check that book out so I can get a better understanding of some of the other typologies you brought up.

  8. That was most heartwarming, intellectually stimulating and spiritually uplifting. I have never heard Habakkuk explained in that way. And am anxious to study it with this new knowledge. I have often wished and I am sure there are a multitude of reasons it isn’t possible, but wished there were books such as the Church offers, that were like the “Book of Revelation Unveiled’. Except on other books of the Bible. It would set many on a course of universal understanding as a Church. Or perhaps an extension of the Bible Correspondance Course. That was so spiritually exciting to read and I enjoyed it so much. I am a member of the Mpls Mn congregation. Thank you for that insight. I anxiously look forward to rereading and seeing the words as you have defined them.

  9. Norbert

    It’s sometime after the fact and also digressing from the topic at hand. But since rakkav mentioned Suzanne Haik-Vantoura 🙂 here’s one of my favourites:


    Is there any other performances that strike you as uplifting on youtube? Or perhaps this is not the time and place?

  10. caucazhin

    Habakkuk 2 is talking about america & england indirectly by principle God will not be mocked. America is the whore ( MYSTERY ) Babylon in Revelation 18. America & England are both whores who exploited people while using Gods name and took native peoples land and used them as slaves thru the delusion of genocidal MANIFEST DESTINY. The American Indians, Mexico and the Hawaiins all have a justifyable parable against america and she will suffer the wrath of Gods indignation.
    She is wanton whore who has perverted the truth to no end and her lust for world domination will be her final downfall just as it was for Jezebel.
    Here is aMERICA the PITIFULs golden calf hidden in plain site ! ! !


  11. Greetings, caucazhin. I have no disagreement that America is idolatrous and is due for a terrible reckoning, but it is not because she is Revelation 18’s Babylon. America is part of Israel, and the modern Babylon and Assyria will be the tool used to punish America (and the UK, et al.), just as it was for ancient, idolatrous Israel & Judah. You’ll find a lot of interesting details about that in the free Tomorrow’s World booklets The United States and Great Britain in Prophecy and The Beast of Revelation: Myth, Metaphor or Soon-Coming Reality?

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