When the Babylonian army was steaming towards Jerusalem, Habakkuk levels some harsh words against the impending invaders, but hidden in those words is a warning to the Jews.
This is part of a series on mirror-reading the books of the Bible. You can view all posts in the series here. They are only cursory mirror-readings and, although I give evidence for their validity, further research is desired for support.
Mirror-Reading The Book of Habakkuk Gives Us A Greater Understanding
The Babylonian army had become the deadliest military force on earth. They were obliterating ancient near east cities like it was going out of style and they were heading towards Jerusalem. The Assyrian army had laid siege to Jerusalem years before but Yahweh had saved the day then, sending the Assyrians away, never to return. This time though, God had made no promises to save them, and the future looked bleak. With a dire outlook, there were temptations for those in Jerusalem and perhaps others in Judah. Habakkuk addresses all of the issues they faced in a clever, even poetic way.
6 Hidden Messages In Habakkuk
Habakkuk fires five "woes" at Babylon. The metaphors in them are clearly directed at the powerful empire. However, the principles in those "woes" are also subtly directed at the temptations facing the Jews.
1. Take care of your debt
An impending siege of a city would wreak havoc on the credit system. Why pay back your creditors if you'll be given a clean slate after Jerusalem falls? Habakkuk addresses the issue:
Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say,
“Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
for how long?—
and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
and those awake who will make you tremble?
Then you will be spoil for them.
The statement is directed at the Babylon because they were taking cities that weren't theirs. However, it also applied to the Jew who was thinking about gaming the credit system.
2. Don't make a deal with the enemy to save your own hide
The Jews may have been tempted to sell out their countrymen to avoid calamity in a potential siege. Habakkuk responds:
“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house,
to set his nest on high,
to be safe from the reach of harm!
You have devised shame for your house
by cutting off many peoples;
you have forfeited your life.
For the stone will cry out from the wall,
and the beam from the woodwork respond.
“Woe to him who builds a town with blood
and founds a city on iniquity!
“Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink—
you pour out your wrath and make them drunk,
in order to gaze at their nakedness!
Again, this is pointed at Babylon as they smashed neighboring cities, but it would also make an Jew think twice about cutting a deal with the Babylonians.
3. Don't worship other gods.
If God can't protect His people from the Babylonians, maybe they should worship other gods.
Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
to a silent stone, Arise!
Can this teach?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
and there is no breath at all in it.
But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.”
It's a little ambiguous. Is it a slam against the Babylonian gods or is it a exhortation to keep the Jews from worshiping them?
4. Jewish leadership will be judged.
Other statements in Habakkuk are ambiguous as well. Are the verses below talking about the corrupt leadership in Jerusalem or the Babylonian army that is to surround it? My answer is both.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
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?
5. The righteous shall live by faith
Perhaps the most recognized verse in Habakkuk was made famous by it's allegorical use in the New Testament.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
We are used to thinking of that phrase in terms of having faith in Christ. However, in Habakkuk's time, this refers to being loyal to God and by extension, Jerusalem. Any soldier thinking about going AWOL is contrasted with Habakkuk's actions:
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.
6. God will save you even in defeat
Many of those in Jerusalem would be thinking about abandoning ship, but even though Habakkuk's message assured the Jews that Babylon would pay for it's sin, it also was adamant about the Jews not taking advantage of the situation. The righteous were to refrain from doing anything to save themselves. God would save them, even if Jerusalem fell. Habakkuk makes it clear in chapter 3:
I hear, and my body trembles;
my lips quiver at the sound;
rottenness enters into my bones;
my legs tremble beneath me.
Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble
to come upon people who invade us.
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
What Do You Think?
What do you think of this mirror-reading of Habakkuk? Is Habakkuk speaking to both the Babylonians and the Jews? What other situations do you think Habakkuk was responding to?