Reflections on Habakkuk (2): As the Waters Cover the Sea

In this post I want to talk about Habakkuk 2:13-14, a passage of Scripture that fills me with hope and optimism.

The main bulk of God’s second answer to Habakkuk in 2:2-20 hangs on five proclamations of woe to the evildoer: “woe to him who heaps up what is not his own” (2:6); “woe to him who gets evil gain for his house” (2:9); “woe to him who builds a town with blood” (2:12); “woe to him who makes his neighbor’s drink” (2:15); “woe to him who says to a wooden thing, ‘Awake'” (2:19). This diatribe against oppression and idolatry serves as the answer to Habakkuk’s question in 1:12-2:1. Habakkuk was concerned at the answer God has given to his first question, namely, that God would raise of the Chaldeans (Babylonians) as his instrument of judgment (1:5-11). Habakkuk asked, “why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (1:15). “Is he then to keep on emptying his net and mercilessly killing nations forever?” (2:17). In other words, “God, why do you allow this terrible oppression and evil? Why use the Babylonians?”

God’s response to Habakkuk in 2:2-20 is that the wicked Babylonians will themselves suffer judgment for all their brutality and evil. “Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them.” (2:7) “Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you” (2:8). “The violence does to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them” (2:17). This oracle climaxes in a denunciation of idolatry (18-19) and then terminates in a proclamation of the transcendence and holiness of God: in distinction from oppressive evildoers and lifeless idols, “the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (2:20). In other words, “be patient, Habakukkuk (2:3, cf. 3:26b), and have faith in me (2:4, cf. 3:17-19), for I am in control (2:13-14, 20), and I will bring these evildoers to account (2:6-17).”

Verses 13 and 14 of this series of woe oracles in chapter 2 comprise one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Verse 13 is strongly reminiscient of Psalm 2 in its affirmation of (1) God’s sovereign control over evil, and (2) the futility of wicked opposition to God:

“Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing?”

Verse 14 continues with one of the most hopeful and encouraging promises of the Bible (cf. the parallel statement in Isaiah 11:9, a clearly messianic prophecy [11:1, 10, “the stump/root of Jesse”]):

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”

My summary: no matter how terrible and brutal the evil powers of this world may be, God’s purpose of filling the whole world with the knowledge of his glory will triumph. Its inevitable. It started on Easter, and nothing can stop it now. Because of his resurrection, ascension and session at God’s right hand, Jesus Christ now rules the nations with authority (Genesis 49:10, II Samuel 7:16, Psalm 2:4-6, 8-9, 72:17, Isaiah 9:6-7, Matthew 28:18, I Corinthians 15:25, Hebrews 2:8, Revelation 19:15). He has conquered, is conquering, and will conquer. So despite whatever setbacks, defeats, and trials we may be experiencing, we who live in the Christian era can, like Habakkuk, have hope that God’s mission of filling the earth with the knowledge of his glory will prevail.

“He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice on the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law (Isaiah 42:4).”

If Christ does not grow faint or discouraged, neither need we!

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