For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4


Habakkuk 2

 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough

2:1.  “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved.”

The prophet here announces his intention to wait for any further communication from God, and to consider what reply he will give when God may rebuke him.  Nor is the watching a casual thing.  The figure is of a sentry on duty, and it implies diligence, watchfulness, alertness, an attitude that is impervious to distraction. 

Tower (watchtower) speaks of a high position affording a commanding view of the surrounding area.  The two combine to teach truth relative to our own position in the midst of today’s evil world.  We are not to permit ourselves to be distracted in the heavenly race by the world’s business, pleasure, politics, education, literature, music, art, etc.  Our attitude ought to be similar to that of the Lord Himself, Who when only twelve years old, said, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Lk 2:49.  We are to survey the affairs of earth from the perspective of heaven, and from that watchtower they will appear very different from what they are when viewed in the dim light of earth.

“... and will watch to see what he will say unto me.”  There is only one way to emulate the prophet’s desire to know what God would say to Him: we must be diligent students of His Word, for it is only through His Word that He communicates with men today. The present appalling ignorance of His will declares the failure of men, even of professed believers, to apply themselves to that study.  That dereliction, however, has ominous implications.  To profess to love the Lord, and yet evince a distaste for His Word, is to render suspect the reality of the profession, for it is a contradiction in terms to say that I love Him Who is the Living Word, and yet display little or no interest in the written Word which is nothing less than the revelation of Him.

We, as God’s people, would enjoy a far greater measure of peace were we imbued with the same confidence that His every word will be fulfilled; and were we also determined to watch carefully for what He is saying to us when we read His Word; and were we willing to obey, so that His reproof would be unnecessary.

2:2.  “And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tablets, that he may run that readeth it.”

Dr Tatford’s comments on this verse are particularly appropriate. He has written, “The prophet was virtually a mediator.  If he had ventured to expostulate with God, it had been as a representative of his people.  If God now spoke, it would be for the prophet to convey the message to the people.”

The Lord’s response came in the form of a command to write upon tablets what had already been revealed, and to write it in language so simple and clear that the reader would have no difficulty trying to determine what was written.  (Tablets may have been of clay, or of thin sheets of wood covered with wax upon which the words were engraved with an iron pen).  Obviously the message was to be communicated to others, and we are reading these verses wrongly if we fail to see that we have the same obligation to make known to others what is written in Scripture: first in the gospel to the unconverted, and then in teaching to the saints.

The need of writing the message rather than just proclaiming it verbally was due to the fact that the fulfillment of the prophecy wasn’t to be immediate.  It lay in the future.

The command to make the writing clear and plain translates also into instruction to us.  We are to devote ourselves to the study of Scripture so that we ourselves will understand clearly what is written, and thus be able to explain it to others, it being obvious that if we are uncertain about what God has written it will be impossible to explain it clearly to others.  A command much neglected today is that given by Paul in 2 Tim 2:15, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

“... that he may run who readeth it” means, not that one may read it while running past, but that the reader may then run to spread the good news of Chaldea’s impending destruction, and Judah’s deliverance.  We have a similar responsibility to spread the good news of salvation for all who will trust Christ as Savior, and of the ultimate destruction of Satan and his evil kingdom.

2:3.  “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”

Further explanation is given relative to the fulfillment of what has been revealed: God has appointed a time for the execution of His Word, and though that time was not the immediate present, the prophet was to rest in the confident assurance of knowing that when God’s appointed time came every word would be fulfilled.

“... at the end it shall speak” might be paraphrased “the fulfillment, when it comes, will confirm that it was indeed the word of God.”  And encouragement to wait patiently for the fulfillment is given in the assurance that though it might seem to be long delayed it would nevertheless come because nothing can thwart the purposes of Him Who is omnipotent as well as omniscient.

This verse is quoted in Heb 10:37, but the gender of the subject is changed there from it to he, “For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry,” the reference being clearly to the Lord Jesus Christ, so the prophecy  points, not only to the fall of literal Babylon in 539-538 BC, but also to the destruction of the evil system which Babylon represents, that destruction coming at the end of the great Tribulation, when Christ will return in power and glory to inaugurate His millennial kingdom, see Re 17-18.

We who are living in a day when the greater part of prophecy has already been fulfilled, are without any excuse for doubting that the remainder will also be fulfilled, or for fearing that any part of God’s word will prove to have been untrue.  The accurate fulfillment of such a large part of prophecy exposes skepticism as the product of a mind incapable of logical thought.

The words of Peter ring across twenty centuries as though spoken from heaven just today, “We have also the more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts,” 2 Pe 1:19.

2:4.  “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.”

The one spoken of here appears to be the Chaldean, but it may apply also to the godless Jews who were even worse by virtue of having been given the knowledge of God, for the soul of both was lifted up in pride in his own self-sufficiency; and the folly of placing one’s trust in such a fleeting unsubstantial thing is evinced in that in a few brief years the might and power of both were swept away as though they had never been.

How different is the man of faith!  He will live for ever in heaven with Christ because his faith is not in himself, but in that same Christ Who has made the gift of eternal life available to every man of faith, through His Own vicarious death and glorious resurrection.  The writer of Hebrews quotes the latter part of this verse in Heb 10:38, as does Paul in Ro 1:17 and Ga 3:11.

2:5.  “Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people:”

He who “transgresseth” is the Chaldean, and while the transgression isn’t specified it may be that in his drunken carousels he mocked God even more than when he was sober.  It is instructive to note what is written in Pr 31:4 concerning kings and liquor, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink.”  It is also instructive to remember that it was in the midst of drunken revelry that Belshazzar mocked Jehovah, and “praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone,” Dan 5:4, and in that same night was slain.

Its being said that “he is a proud man” may further indicate that while he was drunk, his disparagement of God was even worse than when he was sober.

“... neither keepeth at home,” is generally understood to refer to the Chaldean’s insatiable lust to subjugate even more nations than those already conquered, that lust being likened to the desire of hell to have ever more victims, and like death which is never satisfied no matter how many enter its maw.  The voracious hunger for conquest would not be satisfied until every nation, every individual, was subject to Chaldean dominion.

That same lust for power has impelled every tyrant whose evil deeds stain the pages of history; but it isn’t confined to those despots whose pursuit of conquest has resulted in the shedding of the blood of millions: it lurks in some degree in the hearts of most men, from the ruthless business tycoon, to the ambitious elder in the smallest assembly of God’s people.  In the latter context it has wrought irreparable harm amongst believers.

2:6.  “Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!”

God here declares that the tyranny of the Chaldean oppressor will be limited to the time which He allots.  It will have an end, and on that day when it does end, the former victims will exult, and pronounce woe upon their former cruel master.  The words “how long?” are generally understood to be rhetorical with reference to the ill-gotten acquisitions of the fallen despot, and might be paraphrased, “You have seized what rightfully belonged to others, but how long will you keep it?”  The answer of course is, “Only for a little while.”  Ultimately the tenure is ended by death, but God sometimes ends it by other means, leaving the offender to endure the derision of those he had sought to impress.

He is a wise man who recognizes that all he possesses has been given by God, Who can just as easily take it away again.  The mistake of the Chaldeans was that they left God out of the reckoning, and deluded themselves that all they possessed had been acquired and would be kept by their own power and might.

“... ladeth himself with thick clay” is understood by most expositors to be the archaic equivalent of “who holds many promissory notes,” such notes in those days being recorded on clay tablets.  Metaphorically the Chaldean held many such notes, for the subjugated nations owed their very lives to his mere whim.  But God, in declaring the brevity of the Chaldean’s dominion, is reminding every man of the brevity of life, His intention being to impel men to live their lives in view of eternity, for how men live their few and fleeting years on earth determines the condition of their eternal state.

2:7.  “Shall they not rise up suddenly that shall bite thee, and awake that shall vex thee, and thou shalt be for booties unto them?”

This appears to be addressed directly to the Chaldean tyrant, reminding him that as he had but recently overthrown Assyria, so would he himself also in turn be overthrown and become subject to the dominion of the new conqueror, that victor being a people whom he, the Chaldean, presently tyrannized.  The tyrant was being warned that when the positions were reversed and he became the slave and not the master, he should expect to be treated as he himself treated those under his dominion.

“... and thou shalt be for booties unto them,” means that he would be treated by his conqueror as booty taken in war to be used as the victor pleased.

The practical lesson is that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us, remembering that God will ultimately requite us according to our deeds.  All the believer’s sins are forgiven because Christ our Substitute has borne the penalty due to them; but how we live will affect the amount of reward given us at the judgment seat of Christ.

2:8.  “Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee; because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.”

Because Chaldea had plundered many nations, God would see to it that other nations would plunder her in return.  She had shed blood wantonly, and trampled violently upon her defenseless victims, but the God of justice would balance the scales: He would make Chaldea the plundered and defenseless; and in this He would teach all men that, “... God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting,” Ga 6:7-8.

2:9.  “Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil!”

“... coveteth an evil covetousness to his house” is an archaic way of saying, “fills his house with ill-gotten gain.”  God decrees woe to the one who seeks by evil means to set himself above others, and by means of wealth ensure himself against any calamity. 

It was by this very means that the Chaldeans had made themselves great, their subjugation and plundering of others ensuring - as they mistakenly thought - that they, the conquerors, would never suffer any harm from those vanquished and despoiled nations.  God, however, had other plans.  From those same seemingly “dead” nations He raised up one which destroyed Chaldea.

The Chaldean, however, is a type of man in general, his evil reasoning being but typical of the thinking of every man, that fact being demonstrated nowhere more clearly than at Calvary.  There the rulers of the people were convinced that in destroying the Lord Jesus Christ they were ensuring the continuation of their own despotic rule, which they perceived to be endangered by His teaching, so they killed Him.  But like the Chaldeans, they left God out of the reckoning.  In killing Christ they sealed their own doom.  As God raised up one of those “dead” nations to destroy the Chaldeans, so did He raise up the Lord Jesus Christ by Whose power evil Israel was also destroyed in AD 70, the Romans being used as God’s instrument.

2:10.  “Thou hast consulted shame to thy house by cutting off many people, and hast sinned against thy soul.”

By their consultations or schemes to destroy others as a means of guaranteeing their own safety, they had brought shame upon their own house, and had unwittingly assured their own destruction, because what they did was evil in God’s sight, and in making themselves the enemy of others they had made God their enemy, as does everyone who follows their evil example.

2:11.  “For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.”

Some take this to refer to the houses destroyed by the Chaldeans; others see it as a reference to the Chaldean houses that would be destroyed by the conqueror.  Settlement of that question is of little importance, for in a measure both are true.  The fallen stones and burnt timbers of homes destroyed by the Chaldeans metaphorically cried out against them; and whether as still standing, or as become ruins, the same truth applied to the Chaldean houses: they were a testimony to evil even while standing, and would continue to be so when destroyed.

So is it with men.  Their deeds bear testimony to the character of their lives, and will continue to do so in eternity, both at the judgment seat of Christ, and at the great white throne.  It matters how we live, the certainty of judgment being given by the Lord Himself, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment,” Mt 12:36.

2:12.  “Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!”

This declares the deadly folly of man or nation accumulating wealth and power by sinful means, and the application is first to Babylon, many of whose palaces and cities had been built with plunder from conquered nations, and by slave labor

The reference may be also to Jehoiakim’s use of forced unpaid labor to build many magnificent buildings.

2:13.  “Behold, is it not of the Lord of hosts that the people shall labor in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?”

All that Babylon had labored to build up was destined to be destroyed; but the reference is also to the labor of all the ungodly.  The Lord of hosts (armies) has decreed that all they labor so hard for will be burnt up; all they toil for will come to nothing.

Believers too should be careful relative to the things in which they invest time and effort, remembering what is written, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is,” 1 Cor 3:13.  Verse 12 of that same chapter reminds us that our work corresponds either to “gold, silver, precious stones,” or to “wood, hay, stubble.”  It is to be feared that that day will reveal how very much of our time and energy we devoted to the accumulation of the equivalent of worthless “wood, hay, and stubble.”

2:14.  “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

The Bible stands at the top of the list of the world’s best selling books, but it is doubtful if there is any book less read. The knowledge of God is a rare thing on the earth today, and even less is the knowledge of His glory.  But those long ages of ignorance are soon to give place to the Millennium in which the truth of this verse will be fulfilled, for in that glorious age “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” will cover the earth “as the waters cover the sea.”  Concerning the knowledge of the Lord in the Millennium it is also written, “... I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more,” Jer 31:33-34.

2:15.  “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!”

The language here is tropical, other translations making it clear that the reference is not to social drinking, but rather “causing thy neighbor to drink from the goblet of thy fury” - RHM; “... who give your neighbors a flood of your wrath to drink” - NAB; “Woe to you for making your neighboring lands reel and stagger like drunkards beneath your blows, and then gloating over their nakedness and shame” - Taylor.  

The Lord would call Chaldea to account for their cruel treatment of other nations, that accounting occurring much sooner than anyone expected, she herself being destroyed by the Medes in 539 BC, i.e., less than fifty years after her subjugation of Judah in 586 BC.  So has it sometimes been also with men.  Death has snatched them unexpectedly from the midst of evil activity.

2:16.  “Thou art filled with shame for glory: drink thou also, and let thy foreskin be uncovered: the cup of the Lord’s right hand shall be turned unto thee, and shameful spewing shall be on thy glory.”

Chaldea foolishly imagined herself to be glorious because of her destruction of other nations, but God Who knows the end from the beginning, was here warning her that He was about to transmute that glory into a corresponding measure of shame.  As she had gloated over the humiliation brought upon other nations by the gratification of her lust for conquest, so was she about to find the tables turned as God compelled her to drink the cup of His righteous wrath and judgment, thus making her the object of the mockery of the other nations.

It is instructive to note that the cup they would be compelled to drink was the cup of “the Lord’s right hand,” i.e., the hand that symbolizes power and might.

The uncovering of the foreskin was the symbolic revelation of the fact that the person was uncircumcised, i.e., he was not one of God’s people.  The day of Chaldea’s shame would disclose the same truth.

“... shameful spewing” is understood by some to refer to the activity of the nations vomiting, as it were (expression of utter contempt), upon Chaldea.  Others take it to mean that Chaldea would be compelled to “vomit,” give up, all that she had plundered from her victims.  Both, in fact, are true.

2:17.  “For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee, and the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid, because of men’s blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein.”

If the reference here is literally to Lebanon, then the description is of Chaldea’s plundering of the cedar forests for material to build their own cities and homes; and of their wanton killing of wild life, to say nothing of their slaughter and captivity of the population.  Many expositors, however, view Lebanon as a figure of Jerusalem (because of the amount of Lebanon cedarwood used in the construction of the Temple), in which case what is being said is that, “the violence you have done to Jerusalem will result in your own destruction.”

“... the spoil of beasts, which made them afraid” is usually understood to refer to the beast-like ferocity of the Chaldeans against Judah which filled them, the Judaeans, with fear; and the mention of “men’s blood ... the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein” likewise refers to the cruelty of the invader.  Some, however, take the expression to mean that the fear yet to come upon the Chaldeans would be like that which seizes a wild animal when caught in a net or trap.

2:18.  “What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?”

Having exposed the weakness of the Chaldeans’ vaunted military might, the Lord now turns from describing their beast-like ferocity to address the matter of their idolatry, by asking rhetorically what value or power could there be in their idols made by men.  The images, lacking any power, including that of speech, have to have lying men pretend to utter words given them by the idols.  The worthlessness of their dumb idols would be exposed in the day when the pronouncements of Jehovah would be fulfilled in the destruction of Babylon and the idols.

2:19.  “Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach!”

However feeble the testimony of Israel and Judah on behalf of Jehovah may have been, it is doubtful if any nation was unaware of His power demonstrated in delivering His people and destroying the Egyptians, or of His power displayed in the destruction of Jericho and the Canaanites, so that to make an idol, and invest it with divine attributes, was to reject incontrovertible evidence of God’s existence and omnipotence.  The making of an idol was nothing less than deliberate rejection of the revelation of His existence given by God Himself, that rejection exposing the man or the nation to destruction.

2:20.  “But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.”

Above and beyond all the posturing of puny man abides the eternal God in His holy temple in heaven, using even man’s rebellion to accomplish His Own immutable purposes.  As the creature formed by God’s hand, man’s place is not to do his own will, but to be silent in the presence of his Creator, and gladly bow to His will, which is “good, and acceptable, and perfect,” Ro 12:2.

[Habakkuk 3]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough