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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Habakkuk 2

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God Justifies His Judgment

A. The proud rebuked.

1. (Hab 2:2-3) Preparation for the answer: how to publish the vision.

Then the LORD answered me and said: "Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry."

a. Write the vision and make it plain: God told Habakkuk to record this "question and answer" time for the benefit of others - that he may run who reads it. Habakkuk's revelation wasn't just for himself, but also to edify others. Those who read it would make rapid progress (may run), but they couldn't make this progress if Habakkuk did not make it plain.

i. Habakkuk first had to see the vision. The preacher cannot make anyone else see what he does not see for himself.

ii. Habakkuk then had to make it known. The preacher must do what he can to make the word of God known, and make it known in as many ways as possible.

iii. Habakkuk had to make it known as permanently as possible - he was told to write the vision. The preacher must do what he can to make a permanent impact on his listeners.

iv. Habakkuk had to make it plain. "I have sometimes thought that certain ministers fancied that it was their duty to make the message elaborate, to go to the very bottom of the subject, and stir up all the mud they could find there, till you could not possibly see them, nor could they see their own way at all … They tell people all the difficulties they have discovered in the Bible, - which difficulties most of their hearers would never have heard of unless their ministers had told them." (Spurgeon)

v. Habakkuk had to make it practical - that he may run who reads it. It doesn't say, "that he who runs may read it," but "that he may run who reads it." The running - the activity and progress - comes forth from God's word.

b. For the vision is yet for an appointed time: Habakkuk spoke to an age beyond his own. The Babylonian conquest would not be evident in his own day, but in the future.

2. (Hab 2:4-8) God knows how to deal with the proud.

"Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith. Indeed, because he transgresses by wine, he is a proud man, and he does not stay at home. Because he enlarges his desire as hell, and he is like death, and cannot be satisfied, he gathers to himself all nations and heaps up for himself all peoples. Will not all these take up a proverb against him, and a taunting riddle against him, and say, 'Woe to him who increases what is not his; how long? And to him who loads himself with many pledges'? Will not your creditors rise up suddenly? Will they not awaken who oppress you? And you will become their booty. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the people shall plunder you, because of men's blood and the violence of the land and the city, and of all who dwell in it."

a. Behold the proud: Habakkuk wondered why Babylon - a nation even more sinful than Judah - would be used to bring judgment to Judah. In answering the prophet, God first assures him that He sees the proud, and knows that his soul is not upright in him.

i. Pride is everywhere and takes all manner of shapes.

- Here is the rich man, proud of what he has
- There is the poor man, proud of his "honor" in having less
- Here is the talented man, proud of what he can do
- There is the man of few talents, proud of his hard work
- Here is the religious man, proud of his religion
- There is the unbeliever, proud of his unbelief
- Here is the establishment man, proud of his place in society
- There is the counter-cultural man, proud of his "outcast" status
- Here is the learned man, proud of his intelligence and learning
- Here is the simple man, proud of his simplicity

ii. "If there is a sin that is universal, it is this. Where is it not to be found? Hunt among the highest and loftiest in the world, and you shall find it there; and then go and search amongst the poorest and the most miserable, and you shall find it there. There may be as much pride inside a beggar's rags as in a prince's robe; and a harlot may be as proud as a model of chastity. Pride is a strange creature; it never objects to its lodgings. It will live comfortably enough in a palace, and it will live equally at its ease in a hovel. Is there any man in whose heart pride does not lurk?" (Spurgeon)

iii. Pride can be especially dangerous among the people of God. Once a man came to John Bunyan after a sermon and told him what a fine sermon he preached. "You're too late," Bunyan answered. "The devil told me that before I stepped down from the pulpit." Satan can tell the praying brother to be proud of his ability to pray, the growing brother to be proud of his growth, and even the humble brother to be proud of his humility.

iv. "Wherever pride is found, it is always hateful to God. Why! pride is even hateful to men. Men cannot bear a proud man; and hence it is that a proud man, who has any sense left, often sees that it is so, and he therefore tries to affect manners of modesty. He will seem to be humble, when he really is not, if he has the suspicion that all about him will dislike him if they know him to be proud. But God cannot bear pride; it is a part of his daily business to put down the proud." (Spurgeon)

b. But the just shall live by his faith: In contrast to the proud, there are the just. The principle of their life is faith, instead of pride that looks to self. True faith looks outside of self unto the LORD God, while pride always looks to self.

i. This brief statement from the prophet Habakkuk is one of the most important, and most quoted Old Testament statements in the New Testament. Paul used it to show that the just live by faith, not by law. Being under the law isn't the way to be found just before God, only living by faith is.

ii. If you are declared just -that is, approved - before God, you have done it by a relationship of faith. If your life is all about living under the law, then God does not find you approved.

iii. In Hebrew, the important part of the verse has only three words: "the justified man," "by his faith," and "will live." Every word in Habakkuk 2:4 is important, and the Lord quotes it three times in the New Testament just to bring out the fullness of the meaning

- Romans 1:17 is the commentary on the justified man - "The just shall live by faith"
- Hebrews 10:38 is the commentary on faith - "The just shall live by faith"
- Galatians 3:11 is the commentary on the Christian life - "The just shall live by faith"

iv. Before his bold declaration of the truth of the gospel, Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk. As a monk he went on a pilgrimage to Rome and as he crossed the Alps he fell deathly ill. As he lay sick he felt great turmoil, both physical and spiritual, and a verse that had previously touched him came to mind: The just will live by his faith, from Habakkuk 2:4. When Luther recovered he went on to Rome and did the tourist things that all the pilgrims did. One day he came to the church of Saint John's Lateran, where there is a staircase said to be from Pilate's judgment hall. It was the custom of pilgrims to climb this staircase, but never on their feet - they painfully climbed a step at a time on their knees, saying prayers and kissing the steps where is was thought the blood of Jesus fell. Luther came to this place and starting doing just as all the pilgrims, because the pope promised an indulgence to all who climbed the steps on their knees and said the prayers. As he did this, Luther remembered the words from Habakkuk: The just will live by his faith. It is said that when he remembered this he stopped, stood up, walked down and went straight home to Germany. Some say the Reformation began on those stairs.

v. "Before those words broke upon my mind I hated God and was angry with him because, not content with frightening us sinners by the law and by the miseries of life, he still further increased our torture by the gospel. But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood those words - 'The just shall live by faith!' 'The just shall live by faith!' - then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors into the very Paradise of God." (Luther, cited in Boice)

vi. We are called to live by faith, and nothing else.

- Some Christians live by devotions
- Some Christians live by works
- Some Christians live by feelings
- Some Christians live by circumstances

Each of these is meaningless and perhaps dangerous without faith.

c. He enlarges his desire as hell, and he is like death, and cannot be satisfied: God sees the proud man and how the proud man cannot be satisfied. The one who is declared just by faith is satisfied, but the proud man keeps grasping.

d. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the people shall plunder you: Here, God assures Habakkuk that He knows how to deal with nations like Babylon. He promises the Babylonians that just as they plundered many nations, so one day others would plunder them. The Babylonians were perfect examples of the proud who set themselves against those who are declared just by faith - and Habakkuk could take comfort in the fact that God would deal with them.

i. "The immediate value of the word was the Habakkuk learned that God's employment of the Chaldeans did not mean the permanent power of this evil people." (Morgan)

B. Four woes to silence sinful man.

1. (Hab 2:9-11) Woe to the greedy.

"Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of disaster! You give shameful counsel to your house, cutting off many peoples, and sin against your soul. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the timbers will answer it."

a. Woe to him who covets evil gain for his house: God addresses the greedy man, and tells him that he is ripe for judgment. The greedy man does his best to protect himself (set his nest on high), yet all his best will come to nothing.

b. You … sin against your own soul: The greedy man thinks in terms of nothing but gain, but ends up losing his own soul. Jesus' parable in Luke 12:16-21 is the perfect example of the greedy man who sins against his own soul.

c. For the stone will cry out from the wall: Habakkuk pictures a beautiful house built by a greedy man, and the very stones of the house cry out from the wall against the man's greed.

2. (Hab 2:12-14) Woe to the violent.

"Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed, who establishes a city by iniquity! Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts that the peoples labor to feed the fire, and nations weary themselves in vain? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea."

a. Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed: The LORD is not only displeased with the greedy, He also pronounces a woe against the violent.

b. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD: The violent man thinks that his might makes right, so he feels free to abuse others for his gain. As a correction and a rebuke, the LORD reminds the violent man of His ultimate triumph.

3. (Hab 2:15-17) Woe to the drunk.

"Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, pressing him to your bottle, even to make him drunk, that you may look on his nakedness! You are filled with shame instead of glory. You also; drink! And be exposed as uncircumcised! The cup of the Lord's right hand will be turned against you, and utter shame will be on your glory. For the violence done to Lebanon will cover you, and the plunder of beasts which made them afraid, because of men's blood and the violence of the land and the city, and of all who dwell in it.

a. Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor … You also; drink! Through the prophet Habakkuk, the LORD rebukes both the drunk and those who promote drunkenness. Though they think that alcohol makes them feel good, God rightly says they are filled with shame instead of glory.

i. In Ephesians 5:18 Paul calls drunkenness dissipation; drunkenness is a waste of resources that should be submitted to Jesus. John Trapp writes of drinking "all the three outs" - "that is, ale out of the pot, money out of the purse, and wit out of the head." (Trapp's commentary on Galatians 5:21)

ii. The damage of drunkenness goes beyond the act itself and into what it effects in lives and families. Yearly in the United States alcohol is responsible for almost 100,000 deaths (25,000 by drunk drivers alone), 6 million non-fatal injuries, and more than $100 billion in economic losses such as unemployment and loss of productivity.

b. The cup of the Lord's right hand will be turned against you: The drunk and those who promote drunkenness loved their own cup full of drink; now God promises a cup for them, a cup of judgment and just recompense for their sin.

4. (Hab 2:18-20) Woe to the idolater.

"What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it, the molded image, a teacher of lies, that the maker of its mold should trust in it, to make mute idols? Woe to him who says to wood, 'Awake!' To silent stone, 'Arise! It shall teach!' Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, yet in it there is no breath at all. But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him."

a. Woe to him who says to wood, "Awake!": Having dealt with the greedy man, the violent man, and the drunk now God speaks to the idolater - who treats inanimate objects as if they had life and intelligence.

b. In it there is no breath at all. But the LORD is in His holy temple: In contrast to lifeless idols, the LORD is alive and well in His holy temple. The folly of the idolater will be exposed by the majesty of the living God.

i. Through it all, the point is proven. Habakkuk couldn't understand why God would judge a sinful nation (Judah) by an even more sinful nation (Babylon). Yet God reminds Habakkuk of His own wisdom and strength, and of His ultimate triumph over the wicked. God knew that Babylon was filled with the proud, the greedy, the violent, the drunk, and the idolater - and the LORD knew how to deal with them all.

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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